Wherever you are right now, please take a quick look around. Once to the left. And then to the right. How many plastic products can you spot? The question is not whether you can find any, but how many. In this day and age, we all use plastic. A lot of it. Around the clock and all over the world.
No wonder, since plastic is so handy. In addition, it is light, transparent, resistant, durable and not to forget: Cheap. We are now surrounded by so much plastic that modern life would collapse if the use of a magic wand made all the plastic disappear at once.
A campaign of the National Geographic magazine is entitled Planet or Plastic. Plastic planet? That hits the nail on the head since around 300 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year. Only 20% of it is recycled, the rest ends up in the environment. And it’s bound to stay there as plastic takes decades or even centuries to decompose. For example, it is estimated that a plastic bottle takes about 450 years to decompose.
Every plastic item that has ever been manufactured still exists – even if it is just a tiny, invisible piece (called microplastic). This is the first of my list of 10 facts that speak against plastic. The other 9 facts are no less worrying. But there is hope as every one of us can do something about it. That’s what the next article will be all about: Easy steps to reduce plastic waste in your everyday life.
But first find out here why we should all avoid plastic.
10 Facts that Speak Against Plastic
Plastic is not biodegradable – it turns into microplastic!
Plastic is an artificially (chemically) manufactured product that cannot be degraded by microorganisms as is the case with banana peels or apple cores, for example.
That is, plastic does not go away. But the weather and other environmental influences will eventually break it down into smaller and smaller pieces. So small, in fact, that at some point they can no longer be perceived by the human eye. But these plastic pieces still exist. This is called (secondary) microplastic. ZME Science
Production is harmful to the environment
Plastic production requires petroleum, a fossil fuel with limited availability. Toxic gases are emitted during production. Science Advances, EcoWatch
The production facilities are major polluters and often make negative headlines due to accidents, fire, explosions, and the leaking of toxic chemicals. Forbes
Only a fraction is being recycled
About 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. Only about 9% has been recycled. The Guardian
Do more than 8 billion tons also seem outrageous to you? Us humans have a hard time wrapping our minds around such numbers. In the article Marine Plastics, the infographic A Clearer Picture of Plastics (scroll down to the middle of the article) clearly and vividly demonstrates what this number means: 8 billion tons correspond to about 1 billion elephants, 80 million blue whales, or 822,000 Eiffel Towers.
Recycling plastic is harmful to the climate
Plastic waste is either landfilled, incinerated or recycled. Of these three disposal options, recycling is the best, yet it is by no means environmentally friendly. Our World in Data
Recycling also consumes a lot of energy and generates CO2 emissions. In addition, plastic can only be recycled once, at most twice (unlike glass, which is infinitely recyclable). Popular Mechanics
Since China has banned plastic waste imports from other countries, it is estimated that the exporting countries (e.g. Germany and the US) will have to recycle or incinerate (or not produce at all) a total of 111 million tons of plastic waste by 2030. Bloomberg
Plastic leaks toxic substances
Plastic contains harmful chemicals such as phthalates, BPS, Glyphosate, BPA, and also undisclosed material. CHEM Trust
These chemicals are released by heating or damaging and are harmful to health. Journalist’s Resource
Some of these chemicals have been classified as carcinogenic. Journal of Carcinogenesis, The truth about cancer, Very Well Health
Millions of tons of plastic in the ocean
There are 150 million tons of plastic in our oceans today. European Parliament News
Every minute the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the ocean. Greenpeace
Unless we dramatically reduce our plastic consumption, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050. The Guardian
Millions of fish and birds are killed
Microplastic poisons our soils
Microplastic can be found not only in the ocean, but also onshore, polluting our the soils and inland waters. UN Environment
Microplastic in the human body
People are exposed to plastic, especially microplastic, and the potentially harmful chemicals they contain, from water, food, personal care products, and clothing. Independent
Microplastic has already been detected in the human stool. The Guardian
Plastic waste costs a lot of money
The overall economic damage caused by plastic waste worldwide yearly is estimated at around 13 billion dollars. The costs are usually not paid by the polluting parties themselves (plastic manufacturers and consumers), but by the coastal communities, the tourism industry and shipping industry. The Guardian
If you’re more of a visual person, please take a look at the catchy infographic of the organization Less Plastic, which summarizes the most important reasons for not using (disposable) plastic.
The largest market for plastic today is packaging. To me, it’s crazy and incomprehensible that an imperishable material is being manufactured and used on a large scale as a disposable commodity. Over 40% of the plastic produced today is used only once and then discarded (National Geographic). Plastic water bottles, produce packaging, straws, single-use coffee cups, plastic bags – they all end up in the bin. At best! It’s more likely that they end up on the street, in the park, in the woods, in the river, and finally in the ocean.
While no one can stop this plastic pandemic alone, fortunately, each and every one of us can contribute to reducing the demand for plastic. How is that supposed to work? By starting with our own plastic consumption. Take a closer look at how much and what exactly you use. And then reduce it step by step: Banish one piece of plastic at a time from your everyday life and replace it with more sustainable products and materials. This is the question that the next article will revolve around: What are simple changes that we all can make in our everyday life to reduce plastic waste?