REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPAIR...
then RECYCLE !
The first synthetic plastic — Bakelite — was produced in 1907, marking the beginning of the global plastics industry. However, rapid growth in global plastic production was not realized until the 1950s, after the II world war. Plastics revolutionized medicine with life-saving devices, made space travel possible, lightened cars and jets—saving fuel and pollution—and saved lives with helmets, incubators, and equipment for clean drinking water.
The conveniences plastics offer, however, led to a throw-away culture that reveals the material’s dark side: today, single-use plastics account for 40% of the plastic produced every year. Many of these products, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, yet they may persist in the environment for thousands of years.
Plastics by the numbers and key facts:
- Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
- Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
- Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
- Globally, we are ingesting an average of 5 grams of microplastic every week, the equivalent of a credit card, a new study suggests.
- Plastics often contain additives making them stronger, more flexible, and durable. But many of these additives can extend the life of products if they become litter, with some estimates ranging to at least 500 years to break down.
- By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. It’s an Environmental Crisis that’s been in the making for nearly 70 years. Plastic pollution is now considered one of the largest environmental threats facing humans and animals globally.
Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down Plastic Waste into small particles, often less than five millimetres long. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough.
Microplastics make their way into our rivers and oceans, and are eaten by fish and other marine animals, ending up as part of the food chain for the animals and humans as well.
Globally, we are ingesting an average of 5 grams of plastic every week, the equivalent of a credit card, a new study suggests. These tiny particles can originate from a variety of sources, including artificial clothes fibers, microbeads found in some toothpastes, or bigger pieces of plastic which gradually break into smaller pieces when they’re thrown away and exposed to the elements.
Those who exclusively drink bottled water rather than tap water can add up to 90,000 plastic particles to their estimated annual total, according to the study of the Environmental Science & Technology.
The full impact on our health isn’t known. Research shows some particles are small enough to enter our tissues, where they can trigger an immune reaction, or release toxic substances and pollutants absorbed from the environment, including heavy metals.
Harm to wildlife
Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics.
Most of the deaths to animals are caused by entanglement or starvation. Seals, whales, turtles, and other animals are strangled by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings. Microplastics have been found in more than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and mussels destined for our dinner plates. In many cases, these tiny bits pass through the digestive system and are expelled without consequence. But plastics have also been found to have blocked digestive tracts or pierced organs, causing death. Stomachs so packed with plastics reduce the urge to eat, causing starvation.
Plastics have been consumed by land-based animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals, in some cases causing death.
Tests have also confirmed liver and cell damage and disruptions to reproductive systems, prompting some species, such as oysters, to produce fewer eggs. New research shows that larval fish are eating nanofibers in the first days of life, raising new questions about the effects of plastics on fish populations.
WHAT WE CAN DO?
Refuse any product that can harm you, your family or the environment. You have the power to tell companies what products you don’t want with your dollar power. Be a conscious consumer every time you make a purchase; think twice, do I need this?
Refuse unnecessary packaging when purchasing something, refuse to use plastic bags. Set your accounts online paperless to receive notifications via email, print when is only necessary two-sided at your office. There is always something you can do to reduce waste at home and work.
Waste reduction simply means reducing the things and plastic that we use and only consume what is necessary. This way the amount of waste that is created in the end is reduced and avoids going to the landfills and oceans. This also reduces the pressure on natural resources which are utilized in treating the waste as well as natural resources which are required to manufacture new things. Reducing things that we use can also save a lot of money since we stop buying the product entirely.
Reuse something you already have, instead of buying something new and ditch disposable for reusable every time. Reusing encourages you to be more creative and reduces the demand for more resources. It can also save you money in a long run. Reusing an item is how previous generations made the most of limited resources in less wealthy and consumer-convenient times. However, modern society is geared towards throwaway items, be it food packaging or the latest fashion, so it can take a real shift to make a conscious choice to buck the trend.
Too many items are thrown away simply because we don’t know how to fix them, it’s too expensive to do so, or they have been designed to become obsolete. This is especially prevalent in technology such as phones or other electronics, so look for ethical alternatives such as Fair trade. Avoid anything that is not built to last if possible. If you can’t fix it, consider turning it into something else and reuse it.
Your junk may well be someone else’s treasure, so before you throw it out check to see if anyone else could make use of it through online sites such as Freecycle, Preloved and Gumtree.
When you’ve tried everything else, it’s time for the final R, recycle. Recycling processes have their own carbon footprint, and dealing with our waste has a knock on effect on other countries as pollution levels rise but it is also one of the key components in the waste management system. Separate your garbage between glass, cans, carton, plastic and organic waste to be composted, it is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects.
If you don’t have a recycling system where you live, ask the condominium or landlord to implement it. When you recycle you are helping conserve our natural resources, you are preventing pollution, saving energy and creating jobs.
Be healthy, be happy, be the change!