Plastic is one of the greatest products of humanity. Its impact on the space of technology and healthcare has been tantamount to how society has become a more efficient, safer place.
Not the opening you expected, huh? But it’s still true. And we will touch more on this near the end of this article.
Unfortunately, plastic production, waste, and pollution are pretty awful for the planet. As creatures that live on said planet, animals are also negatively affected by the production and disposal of plastic.
Now a lot of people would say something like:
“Yeah, yeah, but why does that ultimately matter to me?”
That’s fair. So we’ll tell you exactly why humans should be concerned about plastic production, waste, and pollution. Because every day people are very much negatively impacted by plastic.
So with that said, we’ll cover the key points like who plastic hurts, why it’s harmful, and what we can do to reduce the stranglehold that plastic has on our planet.
Plastic – What You Should Know
Here’s what you should know about plastic. The following 5 topics should give you a solid overview regarding the eco-impacts of plastic.
Plastic Takes Forever To Decompose
This is the one that most people know. It’s also one of the biggest problems regarding plastic.
Plastic takes a long, long time to decompose. It’s commonly accepted that plastic water bottles won’t decompose for at least 450 years, which is 15-20 generations. 450 years ago, the Ottoman Empire was still around.
Other plastic products are even worse, as they can take 1,000 years to fully decompose in a landfill.
You might have heard about polylactic acid, which is more commonly known as PLA. PLA is a polymer made from cornstarch that mirrors plastic in a lot of ways.
The big difference between plastic and PLA is that PLA is compostable, meaning that it can be broken down into carbon and water within a controlled composting environment.
But outside of this environment, PLA is only slightly better than plastic. It will still take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill, though it won’t be releasing anything bad while it does so.
Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for plastic.
Plastic Is Harmful To The Environment – The Two Big Problems
If you think the worst thing about plastic is that it just lasts for a long time, you’d be surprised.
Plastic is not at its worst when it’s just sitting there. Plastic is at its worst when it’s actually starting to decompose.
The process to start doesn’t take as long as it is finished, and you can bet that problems will surface during that period.
So let’s talk a bit about each of those problems.
The Formation of Microplastics
Microplastics are bad news. But what exactly are they?
Essentially, microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that come from a larger plastic source. This usually occurs during the decomposition process. These microplastics form increasingly smaller microplastics until they finally decompose hundreds of years later.
While fairly harmless to the actual environment, microplastics can cause unique problems in humans and animals. We’ll talk more about it later.
The Leaching of Chemicals
Plastics are often chock full of chemicals. These chemicals are often put in to improve the quality of the product, all without the consumer really knowing.
When the plastic starts to break down, those chemicals don’t just disappear. They have to go somewhere.
That “somewhere” is the soil. Toxins and other nasty chemicals will leach into the soil, causing a plethora of other issues. If not stopped, the domino effect is catastrophic.
Let’s look at a common situation. After a family camp in the woods for a week, they forget to properly dispose of their plastic products and leave them on the ground. These products happen to contain toxic chemicals like phthalates and Bisphenol A (widely known as BPA).
After a while, these chemicals seep into the soil and start disrupting plant life. This can lead to poisoned fruits and vegetables. And since a lake happened to be close by, the toxins will leach into the water too.
The dust particles are polluted too. When dust is kicked up, the toxins can travel and settle into new soil with the help of some rain.
As you might have guessed, having toxins present in our environment can present some challenging problems to animals and humans.
Plastic Is Dangerous For Animals
The physical dangers that plastic presents to animals that don’t know any better are very real and still a constant issue.
That’s horrible by itself, but the potential dangers of plastic can go beyond that.
As we stated before, microplastics can cause problems for animals. This is because it’s very easy for microplastics to end up in an animal’s digestive system. Animals do frequently try to consume plastic, after all.
The consumption of microplastics can cause mechanical damage, chemical responses and disrupt gut microbial communities. It’s a game-changer for the stomach and not in a good way. This may health issues to pop up and can lead to death with enough time.
And if the microplastic doesn’t get them first, the toxins just might.
Dead plants mean less food to go around, and the ones that are still around might just be poisonous now. And if the water is also polluted, there is little that an animal can do to avoid dying aside from fleeing to another environment.
But for a lot of animals, that is not a choice. They are stuck in a lose-lose situation.
Humans Don’t Get Off Easy Either – Plastic Can Harm All Of Us
Now, it’s easy to think:
“Well, it sucks that plastic is so bad for the environment and animals, but at least it doesn’t really affect me. I haven’t been impacted by plastic yet!”
But that’s not entirely true. Humans are already negatively impacted by plastic pollution, whether we realize it or not.
Those microplastics that end up in the stomachs of animals? They’ll ultimately end up in our stomachs, too. We eat those animals, after all. The build-up of microplastics in our digestive system will be just as harmful to us as it is for animals.
Those plants that are poisoned? They are either consumed by us (creating health problems) or they are thrown away (causing shortages of essential crops).
Plastic production is arguably worse than plastic pollution, as we dump more toxins into our environments with production. And since plastic is often produced via fracking, plastic production can cause even more problems for the planet.
“[Fracking] pollutes water, soil and air with toxins, it creates underground cavities that collapse into sinkholes, and it raises pressure in underground rock formations, destabilizing them and leading to earthquakes, even in places where earthquakes are uncommon. Adding insult to injury, one of the main products of fracking is … plastics.”Excerpt from Forbes.com
This, in turn, will cause more problems for us.
Plastic is a serious issue to our health and safety.
These problems compound as the number of plastic waste increases. And since we throw away 91% of plastic (even ones that can be recycled), this is a huge problem with each passing year.
And the more plastic that piles up in our landfills, oceans, and forests, the worse off we will all be.
We should do better for ourselves, our planet, and our future generation. But we can only do so if we take proactive steps NOW.
Not tomorrow, not a year from now, but today!
Reducing Plastic Consumption and Disposal Makes Life Better For Everyone
Alright, so we know why reducing plastic waste is important. But all of this doom and gloom doesn’t change the fact that plastic is an integral part of our lives.
So, what can we do?
Well, it’s unrealistic to demand a complete stoppage on using plastic altogether. Until a viable alternative is introduced, plastic is still going to be a huge part of our lives.
But what we CAN do is limit how much plastic we purchase on a consumer level. Try to be aware of eco-friendly options instead of defaulting to your usual picks.
This is the easiest and most effective step: just don’t buy it in the first place. If demand for a product goes down, the supply will as well.
Less production = less plastic being disposed of = a healthier environment.
It also sends a message to companies: get with the green program or lose money. Companies will pivot to provide greener solutions in order to attract their customers back.
Even so, it’s best to reduce your consumption. We live in a society that is addicted to consuming things, so this is easier said than done. But by taking small steps, you can definitely make a huge difference.
Try Eco-Friendly Products Instead
It doesn’t have to be big things. Maybe get a bamboo toothbrush instead of one made from plastic. Or try out an eco-friendly bath mat next time you need to replace your plastic one.
If you need to get something for yourself, then we recommend exploring eco-friendly options first.
Sometimes this means going for a product that is made to be biodegradable or compostable. Sometimes this means taking a look at the product that is made from non-toxic materials and can be reused for a long time.
You would be surprised by what eco-friendly products are out there. There are even biodegradable glitters, as strange as that may seem.
Now we will be the first to admit that eco-friendly alternatives are usually higher priced and have fewer options compared to plastic. Eco-friendly goods had a bit of a late start and are playing catch-up.
However, the quality of eco-friendly products has skyrocketed. More and more options are coming out every day, all with unique features thanks to the growing demand for a greener world.
Check out these up-and-coming eco-friendly gadgets, and you’ll see that real companies are jumping on the eco-friendly wagon. Now is the best time to make the switch!
Consider Switching To PLA
Still, it can be hard to give up the efficiency and feel of plastic after using it for so long. In that case, try to go for PLA products instead. The difference between the two is very small in terms of performance.
What’s nice is that PLA won’t leak toxic chemicals nor will it generate as many greenhouse gases during degradation (almost 70% fewer gases when compared to plastic).
If you do decide to go with PLA, just know that you should send them to a commercial composting facility whenever possible. It’s possible to compost them at home, but it’s harder and takes more time. PLA composting is also not compatible with vermicomposters, so keep that in mind.
And depending on the product, the PLA may be more sensitive to heat. This isn’t the case for every PLA product, but it’s still something to be aware of.
We always recommend doing your homework before buying anything, especially since “greenwashing” (faking eco-friendly products) is still a thing that companies will try to do.
So if you still have the itch to use plastic, try PLA instead. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Try To Recycle Your Plastic
If you already have plastic products, then recycling them is the way to go.
We recommend checking for a dedicated recycling number that should be located on the plastic product. Here is a quick list of the numbers and what they mean:
- PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) – soda bottles, water bottles, cooking oil containers, peanut butter jars, etc. These are recyclable.
- HDPE (High-density polyethylene) – milk jugs, shampoo bottles, cleaning product containers, detergent bottles, etc. These are recyclable.
- PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) – kids toys, plastic tubing, furniture, plastic trays, etc. These are NOT recyclable.
- LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) – grocery bags, produce bags, bread bags, newspaper bags, etc. These are SOMETIMES recyclable depending on location.
- PP (Polypropylene) – containers for yogurt, margarine, and sour cream. Can also be used in bottle caps and carpets. These are SOMETIMES recyclable depending on location.
- PS (Polystyrene) – products made from styrofoam-like disposable coffee cups, packaging material, and to-go containers. These are SOMETIMES recyclable depending on location.
- Other – any product that doesn’t fall under any other number. These MIGHT be recyclable depending on the product, but it is unlikely.
Just because a product has a number on it doesn’t mean that it is recyclable. Always make sure to check in with your local waste management or recycling company to confirm what numbers they can take.
If your local organizations cannot accept it, you can consider recycling through TerraCycle, a company that specializes in receiving and recycling products that are otherwise difficult to recycle.
If Plastic Is So Bad, Why Do We Still Use It?
The world would be better off without the reckless consumption of plastic. That is an undeniable fact.
But as it stands, plastic is still one of the most useful materials ever created.
There are many benefits to utilizing plastic:
- It’s extremely versatile and can be tailored meet specific needs.
- It’s a light material, meaning it costs less gas to transport.
- It’s very durable and has a long lifespan.
- It’s resistant to water, chemicals, and impact.
- It has great safety and food hygiene properties.
- It does not corrode or rust.
These qualities and more are what make plastic so valuable in today’s society. The healthcare space wouldn’t be nearly as safe without it. Scientists need it for protection against dangerous chemicals. Building and construction work would be far more difficult.
Those are just a few examples. In reality, plastic is an important part of everyone’s life.
But as we just discussed, such widespread use of plastic is leading to big problems. That’s why we need to put more effort into reducing and recycling on a consumer level.
At the moment, we cannot completely eliminate plastic use. But we, the people, can certainly curb how much is produced, used, and disposed of.
If you follow even just one of our methods for reducing plastic consumption and waste, you will do your part in making the world a better place.
As environmental concerns continue to gain traction in the mainstream media, we are confident that more and more people will adopt a greener lifestyle.
But you shouldn’t just wait for other people to start. The best way to get the ball rolling is to roll it yourself! The benefits of going green are well worth it! Plus, leading by example is a much better way to send a message and get people on board than with words alone.
We are excited about what the future holds. Hopefully, that means less plastic and more green!
Hey, you made it to the end! We hope that you enjoyed our article.
Until next time, let’s all continue to strive towards a greener, better world.