There is no doubt that plastic is everywhere – in our homes, in our landfills, and in every nook and cranny of our environment.
In fact, about 8 million metric tons of it will end up in our oceans this year alone (one metric ton equals 2205 lbs.), and with more plastic being produced in the first ten years of this century than was produced in the entire 20th century, there is no end in sight.
With all the disposable packaging, plastic toys, plastic bags and other plastics which will be manufactured and discarded, there is good reason to consider reducing, recycling and removing plastic from your life now more than ever.
Not only is plastic an environmental nightmare due to how much of it ends up in our oceans, streams, rivers and forests, it is also toxic to you and your family.
Since nearly all plastic contains poisonous chemicals of some kind, it may be doing more direct damage to your health than you realize, and the manufacturing of it also adds chemicals to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods we eat.
Not convinced? Here are 8 facts that will make you want to stop using plastic for good.
One of plastic’s biggest advantages as a container for foods and liquids also makes plastic an environmental disaster – namely, it isn’t biodegradable.
In fact, most plastic water bottles take between 450-1000 years to decompose, so most of what you see floating in a river or ocean today will likely be around for generations to come.
Even biodegradable plastics made of cornstarch or other plant material take around 6-months to decompose, which, while vastly better than 450-years, is still not great.
The bottom line? There are things which are good to leave around for our future generations and plastic rubbish is not one of them.
Plastic is loaded with toxins, and even “safe” plastics may be posing a potential health risk. Not only do many plastics contain bisphenol (BPA), but heavy metals, phthalates and other carcinogens as well.
In the case of BPA’s and phthalates, both are known endocrine disruptors, which are leached from plastics into foods, onto skin, and into the air. These can not only put us at risk for cancer, but are associated with reproductive issues, low sperm counts, weight gain, early onset puberty in boys and girls, and the list goes on.
Sure, there may be other cancer-causing influences in our modern society, which some may say simply cannot be avoided.
However, does it really make sense to NOT avoid that which CAN be avoided, thereby lowering our overall cancer, etc., risk?
As anyone who has ever experienced cancer themselves, or had a loved one suffering from it can attest, the answer is a resounding “NO!”
Plastic in our oceans is more than a mere unsightly inconvenience, it also wreaks havoc on the lives of marine birds, fish and mammals. Many seabirds, for instance, will commonly mistake indigestible plastic trash as food, which they then consume, and die slowly of as it fills their stomachs and they can no longer eat real food.
This also occurs with fish and even whales, who take in plastic particles when they feed on plankton and krill which have plastic particulate floating amongst them.
Finally, fish, birds, sea turtles and marine mammals can become trapped in beer can rings, fishing line, and other plastic hazards which can then drown them, or young wildlife can become encircled in plastic, which does not grow with them and slowly cuts into them.
These scenarios all lead to one thing: Slow, painful death for the creature, and lower populations of endangered species—and all avoidable, were we to not dispose of plastics in the environment.
Plastic is toxic stuff, and the same BPA’s, phthalates, heavy metals, formaldehyde and other chemicals which can disrupt your endocrine system, cause chromosomal damage, and endanger you and your family can also leach into the soil.
This means that food grown in contaminated soil will also become contaminated, as will any wildlife in proximity to – and downstream of – areas where plastic is disposed of.
Plastic particulate can also become airborne, and there may be real danger of it being in the air we breathe, meaning that not only can it get onto our skin, into our pores, and be ingested, it can also be taken in through our lungs, as well as the lungs of wildlife and pets.
Petroleum itself is an ecological nightmare, with the destruction caused from its extraction being just the tip of its toxic iceberg. Since about 4% of crude oil goes into the making of plastics, we can be assured that even though we may be taking other measures to decrease our carbon footprint, continuing to use plastics will ensure that there is a call for fracking, oil drilling and oil refining.
So, even though you may drive an electric car, ride a bicycle, or use public transportation, there is still that dashboard made of plastic, plastic bike helmet, and plastic water bottle you take with you on the bus which are continuing to require crude oil to be mined.
The good news is, there are other plant-based plastics starting to make their way into product packaging and other areas where traditional plastics are used, although plant-based plastics still require crude oil enhancement (about 30%).
Producing it can also affect food supplies, and due to a lack of cost-effectiveness for industries, is taking time to catch on.
Plus, in the case of junk-food manufacturer Frito-Lay scrapping plans to use a plant-based bag for their Sunchips, the plant-plastic made too much noise, which they figured their customers would not like. Really? Potato chip bags too noisy? Let’s hope there are worse things to worry about than such a horrid inconvenience as that!
Just as heavy metals, formaldehyde, BPA’s and many other dangerous chemicals are leached into the soil from plastics, the same happens in our waterways.
To make matters worse, about 83% of water samples tested worldwide showed positive results for plastic particulate, which is due to anything from the wearing down of plastic carpeting which produces airborne particulate, to synthetic clothing being washed and breaking down into particles which then enter the water ways.
Not only can this produce chemical toxins which affect fish, wildlife and human health, plastics can also harbor dangerous pathogens which can then cause illness and the spread of disease.
Of the 33.6 million tons of plastic discarded each year, only around 6.5% of it is recycled. The rest either goes into landfills or into the environment, which means more needs to be made from raw material to keep up with the demand.
Not only does this increase our carbon footprint and keep the petroleum industry happily researching new pristine areas to destroy with fracking and drilling, it also means more landfills are needed as current locations are filled, and can no longer be used.
Ironically, the mining of landfills could prove to be a multi-billion-dollar industry, with it being estimated (as of 2011) that there is about enough plastics in landfills which, were it converted to liquid fuel (i.e. back to petroleum), it could produce the equivalent of 139 barrels of crude oil – about enough to fuel all the cars in Los Angeles for an entire year.
Producing plastic creates pollution, as well as requiring fossil-fuel to make. When plastic resin is produced, a dilute aqueous caustic solution is used to scrub ethylene as it is polymerized, which produces a caustic solution, which is a high-volume environmental toxin.
This is in addition to other emissions released during the refining process (nickel, ethylene oxide, benzene, and more), and in concentrations of about 100 times what it takes to make similar products from glass.
Plastic manufacturing is also dangerous to workers, who not only have much more direct contact with chemical toxins than does the public, but also have explosions, toxic-cloud vapors and chemical fires to be concerned with.
And of course, not only do such explosions, fires and cloud vapors affect workers when they happen, but entire areas around plastic manufacturing plants need to be evacuated when such disasters occur, and most of the residue from the occurrence remains in the environment for hundreds of years after.
So even though that bottle of purified water may seem innocent enough, and you personally may do your part in ensuring that it ends up in a recycling bin and not on the beach, you may still want to re-think your decision to continue using it.
While plastics may be everywhere, and seemingly impossible to remove as a health hazard for you, your family, the environment, and wildlife, the removal of them needs to start somewhere – and the sooner the better.
By doing your part and avoiding plastics whenever possible, it not only helps reduce your immediate impact on our environment, but tells manufacturers through loss of sales – the loudest message we can deliver to them – that plastics are no longer tolerated.
It also teaches and encourages future generations – as well as others around you – of the need to remove plastics from our world.