Why the Plastic Problem Matters

Picture this, an island of plastic bigger than the state of Texas floating somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. No, it’s not a scene from an end-of-the-world science fiction movie – it’s a reality.

The Great Pacific Garbage is one of 5 offshore accumulations of plastic waste scattered in the Earth’s ocean, and they’re all growing every day. That’s just the plastic that’s made its way into the sea. There’s a lot more in landfills all over the planet and more being manufactured every day.

Why is Plastic a Problem?

You don’t need to be an environmentalist to know that all this plastic floating where it shouldn’t be is catastrophic to marine fauna and flora. You don’t need to be an activist to ask why somebody hasn’t cleaned it up. The problem is, where can we put it? Texas is occupied right now.

There are organizations such as Ocean Cleanup working tirelessly to solve the problem, but they’ve got a literal mountain (of trash) to climb.

The only hope is to stop it before it gets any worse.

On land and sea, plastic causes numerous environmental problems for the planet, as follows:

  • Plastic has tremendous staying power and takes hundreds of years to break down.
  • As it slowly crumbles, it releases toxins into the air, water and environment.
  • When plastic toxins are released into the water, they kill plankton, which is one of those bottom-of-the-food-chain species vital for survival.
  • These toxins also make their way into water supplies, endangering species that live on land
  • Animals are injured, poisoned and killed by plastic every minute of every day. Over 200 species of animals are known to ingest plastic.
  • Plants cannot grow in plastic-covered soil.
  • When plastic is burned, it releases huge volumes of toxic gas into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming
  • Landfills take up space that could otherwise be used for growing crops and raising livestock.
  • As these landfills increase in size, they encroach more and more on fragile watercourses.
  • At very least, plastic pollution is unsightly and can lead to a loss in tourism revenue in areas where it is most prevalent.
  • It costs municipalities millions every year to manage plastic waste.

So, if you thought plastic was out-of-sight-out-of-mind, think again. If plastic pollution continues at this rate, mankind will be left alone on a barren, filthy, infertile planet filled with waste. We have nowhere else to go.

How Bad is it Really?

Despite the enormous piles of garbage floating in the ocean and drifting beneath its waters, we, as a species are still producing 300 million tons of plastic every year and dumping 8 million tons of it into the sea!

Up to 50% of the plastic produced is single-use and cannot be recycled. Crazy isn’t it.

What are the Alternatives?

Bizarrely, the species that put a man on the moon and managed to climb to the top of the super-predator ladder still doesn’t have a lasting solution to this problem.

It’s clear that we need alternatives fast and there are scientists working around the clock to find them. Unfortunately, big business has been slow to adopt these changes, largely due to the costs involved with change.

Some of the solutions across different applications that have come to the fore are:

  • Glass
  • Canvas
  • Cotton
  • Hemp
  • Leather
  • Fibre
  • Bamboo
  • Products with plastic additives to reduce the environmental backlash
  • Milk protein
  • Chicken feathers!
  • Liquid wood
  • PLA Polyesters

Many businesses have caved to the pressure and started using these alternatives. However, until all manufacturers and packaging outlets come to the party, the onus is on every single one of us to make a difference wherever we can.

How Can you make a difference?

“Reduce, reuse, recycle’ should be at the top of your mind when making decisions. Don’t buy plastic bags at the supermarket, bring your own recycled bags. Purchase environmentally-friendly shopping bags, they’re available at every checkout.

Think about plastic-free alternatives whenever you buy items.

Buy yourself a reusable straw and mug for when you do indulge in a coffee or a drink at a fast-food outlet. Don’t buy Styrofoam takeaway containers, insist that the store packs your meal in one of your own reusable containers. If they don’t comply, don’t support them.

Boycott products packaged in non-biodegradable packaging. Shop at food markets for fresh produce without plastic packaging. You’ll be supporting your local small businesses as well as helping to reduce waste.

Talk to local businesses about instituting environmentally-friendly options. If you are in charge of your own business, be the change.

There are families out there who have taken the challenge to heart and are throwing away only a handful of plastic every week.

Let’s do this people – we have to because our planet matters.