Plastic pollution has spread all over the world and the steps to remediate this issue are long overdue. Since the start of global production of plastics in the 1950s, the use of plastics has increased exponentially with plastics being used in every aspect of our daily lives, including phones, cars, clothing, and home appliances. Out of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced throughout this time, only 23% was recovered or recycled. In Canada, only about 11% of the plastics used are recycled, leaving the rest in landfills, incinerators, oceans, and the Great Lakes.
There have been discoveries of five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans to date, with the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex. It’s an island of floating plastic located halfway between California and Hawaii, three times the size of France in 2018. Plastics with high levels of buoyancy and resilience stay afloat and are transported over long distance through the ocean’s current and houses the patch. Once these plastics are accumulated, it is unlikely that they’ll disperse until they degrade under the sun, waves and marine life.
The ‘benefit’ of using plastic is its durability, which is, unfortunately, also its downfall. Plastics are made of petroleum, so they don’t fully decompose. Instead, these products break into microplastics which contaminate the environment and enter the food supply. Furthermore, it is estimated by the World Economic Forum that the amount of plastic will exceed the amount of aquatic life by 2050. Plastics are endangering 700 species of animals including seabirds, whales, and dolphins who mistakenly ingest plastics, thinking its food.
There are considerably less research and media coverage on the effects of plastic on land. Researchers in Germany estimated that terrestrial microplastic pollution is 4 to 23 times higher than marine microplastic pollution, depending on the environment. Microplastics further degrade into nano plastics which then seep into the soil as fertilizer and water. The surface of tiny fragments of plastic potentially carry disease-causing organisms and act as the disease itself. Plastics are also being mistakenly ingested by land animals such as stray dogs and raccoons, and pose a threat to them when these animals get caught in tangled plastic bags and beverage rings.
Moving forward - how about bioplastic?
Bioplastic or bio-based plastic is essentially plastic made from a more sustainable source like plants or other biological material instead of petroleum. For example, bioplastic can be manufactured from starch, cellulose, sugar and vegetable oil that can be derived from maize, potatoes or sugar. About 8% of the world’s oil supply is used to make traditional plastic. By manufacturing bioplastic, there will be a major reduction in the usage of non-renewable energy. Advantages of using bioplastic include reduced carbon footprint and nondegradable waste, and they don’t contain substances that are harmful to our health such as phthalates or bisphenol A (BPA).
Hopefully, by understanding the impact of plastics, we can be more mindful of our consumption of these products. Stay tuned for next week’s post where we’ll discuss every-day tips for your own household!
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