The Age of Plastic
By Veronica A.
Plastic bags are used for an average of twelve minutes (Mwamba). Yet, it can take up to 1,000 years for that same plastic bag to fully decompose (LeBlanc). This example helps point out why plastic consumption is such an important global issue today. Plastic is produced in massive quantities, polluting Earth’s wildlife habitats and harming the health of all creatures.
Marine wildlife populations are constantly harmed by the plastic that ends up in their habitats. In a 2015 study, it was estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastics are dumped into the ocean annually (“Marine Plastics”). With so much plastic afloat, marine animals suffer the consequences. Scientists have estimated that 90% or more of all marine birds and fish have plastic in their stomachs (Mwamba). The ingestion of plastic by marine wildlife results in internal wounds, digestive problems, reproductive disorders, and, “…the possibility that plastic resin pellets may absorb and concentrate potentially damaging toxic compounds from sea water” (Gregory 2014). The fact that plastic has found its way into one of the most important ecosystems on the planet signals a potentially dark era for the Earth’s biodiversity.
Our health is also at risk when we consume products in plastic packaging. “The average human eats 70,000 microplastics in one year,” Global Citizen observes (Mwamba). Reproductive health is the most susceptible, because of the resemblance of plastic molecules to human hormones. One notoriously toxic form of plastic, Bisphenol A (BPA), has already caught the attention of concerned consumers, but it has been replaced with alternatives that are equally dangerous. A 2017 study conducted by Corinne Hill and colleagues found that Bisphenol S (BPS), which is used as a BPA replacement, can induce early puberty in female mammals and then interrupt further response to important hormones (Hill et al). From this we can conclude that no plastic is good plastic when it comes to our health.
Considering the harmful effects of plastic pollution, we, as consumers, can help solve this global issue by purchasing products packed in glass, paper, or cloth. These familiar materials have served the human population’s needs for centuries. They are derived from natural sources; glass is produced from sand, paper from trees, and cloth from plant fibers. With the exception of glass; these materials are much more biodegradable than plastic.
Although plastic supporters argue that plastic is beneficial for our planet and convenient for consumers, there are several reasons why using traditional packaging would be the better choice. Plastic may be recyclable, but it does not reduce the amount of garbage in landfills. In fact, statistics published by the EPA show that, in 2015, only 3.4% of the total municipal waste recycled was plastic (“National Overview”). On the other hand, 18.9% of the materials that went to landfills were plastic, second only to food. Plastic may be lightweight and durable. However, the materials proposed are just as durable and convenient for their different purposes. For example, cloth wicks moisture away from grains, while beeswax paper keeps more perishable items like meat fresh and juicy without spills. Weight is no longer a problem for glass: “Glass bottles have been reduced in weight approximately 40% over the past 30 years,” reports the Glass Packaging Institute (“Glass Recycling Facts”). The environmental argument for replacing plastic is further strengthened by all the benefits traditional packaging now offers us.
The consequences of the age of plastic can be reversed if we opt for alternatives to plastic. Earth’s fauna suffers from plastic buildup, and our health is being jeopardized by the amount of plastic our bodies absorb during our lifetimes. We should think twice before purchasing any products containing non-biodegradable substances. Opting for substitutes to plastic will help keep our beautiful “Blue Planet” blue.
“Glass Recycling Facts.” Glass Packaging Institute: Recycling. Glass Packaging Institute, 2019. Web. 23 Mar 2019.
Gregory, Murray R. “Environmental implications of plastic debris in marine settings—entanglement, ingestion, smothering, hangers-on, hitch-hiking and alien invasions.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 364.1526 (2009): 2013-2025. Web.
Hill, Corinne E., et al. “Developmental exposures to bisphenol S, a BPA replacement, alter estrogen-responsiveness of the female reproductive tract: a pilot study.” Cogent Medicine. 4.1 (2017): 1317690. Web.
LeBlanc, Rick. “Decomposition of Waste in Landfills: A Story of Time and Materials.” The Balance Small Business. Dotdash, 2018. Web. 21 Mar 2019.
“Marine Plastics.” Smithsonian Ocean. Smithsonian Museum, 2018. Web. 23 Mar 2019.
Mwamba, Seneo. “10 Facts About Plastic Pollution You Absolutely Need to Know.” Global Citizen. Global Poverty Project Inc., 2018. Web. 21 Mar 2019.
“National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes, and Recycling.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. EPA, 2018. Web. 22 Mar 2019.