Can we kill plastic once and for all? | How bad is plastic pollution on our planet?
Author : Amal Rahiman
Our planet is suffocating with plastic.
Plastic is bad – we already know this. We have all heard about plastic being in our food, in our soil, and even in our clothes.
It is a ubiquitous product in our lives, which is really unfortunate due to its damaging properties.
So how did it end up here?
Can we reverse plastic pollution, or is it already too late?
Let’s find out.
How Is Plastic Made?
Plastic is mostly made out of fossil fuels such as crude oil. Salt, coal, natural gas,
and cellulose are the other “ingredients” needed to make plastic.
These ingredients are then refined to form ethane and propane.
Ethan and propane undergo further processing with heat, also known as “cracking”,
to create ethylene and propylene.
These materials are then combined together through a catalyst, which then creates a
polymer fluff. This fluff is powdery in nature.
The polymer will be put into an extruder, where it gets melted and put into a pipe.
Once inside the pipe, the plastic turns into a long tube as it cools down.
This tube can be cut into small pellets and then is shipped to different factories to be
melted and molded. The molded shapes are used for bottles, food packaging,
medical devices, and much more.
The Consumption of Plastic:
Single-use plastics are those that cannot be recycled or reused and will have to be
dumped into growing landfills, where it continues to accumulate and not
According to the Australia-based organization, Minderoo Foundation, just 20
companies produced around 55% of global plastic waste. 100 companies were
responsible for more than 90% of global plastic waste.
All of this plastic is single-use plastic.
In individual terms, we use plastic every day. From the most obvious items like
plastic bags and straws to the less obvious items like clothes and teabags –
everything is plastic.
It is easily available, cheaper, and much less hassle.
But taking the easy way out every time is starting to show its effects.
We are now eating plastic, wearing plastic, swimming in plastic, and even breathing
in plastic. Micro-plastics can now be found in almost anything.
In fact, they have now been found in the placentas of unborn babies as well. They
are polluted even before being born. That is the extent of plastic pollution.
How Harmful Is Plastic to Our Ecosystem?
Around one-third of all plastic waste ends up in our soil or freshwater. Sewage is one
of the main reasons that cause microplastics to travel around, produced from
factories that handle plastic. The sludge from sewage is usually used as fertilizers for
fields. This is how they end up in our soils and water sources.
Plastic in nature can never lead to anything good. Mites, earthworms, and other soil
fauna are species that we don’t think of very often, but it is their healthy presence
that maintains the fertility of our soil. When plastics enter our soil, this fauna gets
poisoned, leading to their slow but gradual decrease.
Washing clothes is one of the biggest contributors to plastic particles in our water.
Washing synthetic materials like nylon, spandex, and polyester end up polluting our
water with tiny fibers of plastic. This waste water will be released into the open
environment where it goes on to pollute our water sources.
Another major culprit of plastic pollution in water is microbeads. Usually found in
cosmetic items, they do not melt off, nor do they disintegrate. As they are washed
off, they end up in our waters, where they live for hundreds of years.
Plastic tends to break down into microplastics (<5mm in size), which then further
break down into nanoparticles (<0.1 micrometre in size). These nanoparticles can
travel through the wastewater and end up in our food. We then consume this plastic-
Although the amount of plastic we consume may be minuscule, we are constantly
consuming the same food. It is recommended to change your plastic water bottle
after a year of use, due to the toxicity of prolonged use of plastic. So, imagine the
harmful effects of having to consume plastic for our entire lifetime.
Benefits Of Recycling Plastic:
It is always better to recycle existing plastic than to buy new and increase the
demand. As we already know, plastic is made from burning fossil fuels, which
releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, leading to global warming and thus
climate change. Reducing our plastic consumption makes a huge difference in
tackling climate change.
Other than fighting climate change, when we reduce the production of plastic, we are
- consuming less energy and not wasting our finite natural resources
- reducing the burden on the ever-growing landfills
- promoting mindful consumption and protecting our environment
- saving money and reusing what we already have
- improving our health and the health of the future generations
What Can We Do to Solve Plastic Pollution?
There may not be much we can do about the existing plastic on our planet. What we
can do is reduce our consumption and not add to the existing plastic waste. Few
simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference –
- Try to buy in bulk to reduce packaging waste
- Boycott cosmetics with microbeads
- Use biodegradable items wherever possible
- Reuse whatever plastic you currently have
- Stop using single-use plastic
- Educate others on plastic pollution
- RECYCLE! RECYCLE! RECYCLE!
Plastics take more than a hundred years to completely disintegrate, but even then,
there still may be nanoparticles existing. We may not be able to cut off plastic once
and for all immediately. It is a slow process and finding alternatives is not always
But we have to start now.
Before it is too late.
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