Are plastics really that bad?
As you well know, the prevalence of plastic in our world is profound. It surrounds us all of the time. Take a look around you; you will be surprised at how many plastic items you see. Now stop and think about how many pieces of plastic you threw away today (hopefully you recycle and don’t trash everything). You get the point. This stuff is everywhere and the problem is…it goes nowhere! Plastic is not biodegradable meaning that it sticks around for years and years. Let’s take a look at how plastic bags in particular are destroying our environment.
Plastic bags, cups, bottles, straws, plates, forks…the list of plastic items used on a daily basis can go on and on. Consider the fact that 50% of the plastic we use is used ONE time, and then thrown away! One time!? American’s throw away enough plastic, on a yearly basis, to circle the earth four times. Unfortunately a large percentage of this plastic ends up in landfills, where it stays…for 500-1,000 years! If not in landfills plastic can be seen littering the ground as well as our lakes, rivers and oceans. The most tragic element about this plastic epidemic is the cluelessness of Americans. The majority of Americans don’t recognize the profound impact every one of those plastic coke bottles make.
Plastic bags are one of the most commonly used sources of plastic. They serves as shopping and grocery bags, lunch bags, freezer bags and many other purposed bags. Plastic bags are also one of the most environmentally dangerous sources of plastic.
Plastic Bags and the Environment
Worldwide more than one million plastic bags are used every minute. Annually, it is estimated that 1 trillion plastic bags are used around the world. That is a LOT of plastic bags. Where do these plastic bags end up? The better question is where they don’t end up. They’re everywhere from bodies of water, to fields, to forests, lakes, landfills, etc. We do know that the majority of them are not ending up recycled. While plastic bags float in our oceans and lakes or degrade in our landfills they are releasing chemicals and toxins into the water and soil.
Keep in mind that the trillions of plastic bags produced over the last several years are accumulating…and will continue to accumulate. The majority of plastic ever created is still hanging around here somewhere. Such a small percentage is recycled, and it takes up to 1,000 years to degrade. This means that the plastic trash just continues to build and build.
Plastic Bag Production
The process of creating plastic bags is a threat to the environment in and of itself. Plastic bag production uses millions of gallons of petroleum.. Ceasing plastic bag production would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Petroleum is a non-renewable energy source. It will run out eventually. Why are we wasting it on the production of plastic bags?
Plastic and the Ocean
The amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean is disgusting. Studies indicate that 90% of trash on the ocean’s surface is plastic, amounting to 46,000 piece of plastic each square mile. The profound about of garbage ending up in the ocean is having a detrimental effect on the ecosystem of the ocean. When plastic begins to degrade it is also a source of pollution. The effects of this plastic pollution on sea life and humans are not fully known at this point.
Plastic in the ocean is wreaking havoc on our sea life. Sea turtles in particular mistake plastic bags for jelly fish, try to eat them and then choke to death. Other sea creatures also try to eat the plastic; it either gets lodged in their gastrointestinal tract or they choke on it. Plastic can entangle the see life; there are tons of images of turtles, seals, fish, etc. that have been all tied up in piece of plastic. This tragedy is all too common. It is estimated that one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals [http://ecowatch.com/2014/04/07/22-facts-plastic-pollution-10-things-can-do-about-it/] are killed on a yearly basis from plastic in the ocean. Sadly 44% of sea birds, 22% of cetaceans, all sea turtles and a significant amount of fish species have been documented as having consumed plastic or had plastic around their bodies. Mussels, clams and lobsters are among the sea life known to consume micro plastics. As you well know, these creatures serve as very common sources of seafood. Humans are eating creatures that are consuming plastic. This is not good.
Plastic and the Great Lakes
Microplastics represent tiny particles of plastic. A recent study completed on the Great Lakes including Lake Erie and Lake Ontario found significant amounts of microplastics. The study identified 1,500-1.1 million micro plastic particles per square mile! It is believed that a portion these microplastics come from a variety of sources from commonly used products like abrasive face washes to body scrubs and tooth paste. These products contain tiny pieces of plastic that get washed down the drain and are not caught in the water filtration system. They are then flushed into local bodies of water. Other sources of microplastics include plastic that has begun to degrade. Plastic will break into tiny pieces, where it remains for years and years.
Microplastics are dangerous because they are absorbent meaning that they suck in toxins. They are also very tiny, often resembling fish eggs. Fish eggs are a source of food to many creatures and thus the microplastics are eaten.
What is Being Done?
Many individuals recognize the severe risk to the planet that plastic bags pose. Hawaii became the first state, in 2013, to ban the use of plastic bags at checkout counters. Retailers have until July 2015 to stop using non-biodegradable plastic bags. Many other US cities have taken to this approach, beginning to charge patrons a fee for use of plastic bags. Other countries have since banned the use of plastic bags or imposed a tax on businesses who use them.
Unfortunately, the magnitude of plastic bag use is astronomical. While the banning of the bags in specific areas is certainly promising, unless patrons are educated about the risks and forced to make alternative choices, the plastic bag epidemic will likely continue.
What Can You Do?
The plastic pollution problem is absolutely preventable. It involves a complete behavior shift, but it is not impossible. There are many actions that you can take to help reduce the use of plastic bags.
Share this article! Educate your friends and family about the serious nature of plastic pollution and inspire them to get on board with recycling.
Reusable shopping bags have actually become a recent trend. They are sold in all kinds of sizes, shapes, and have fun prints and colors. The fabric bags are very popular and reasonably priced. They are sturdier than traditional paper or plastic bags and thus able to hold more groceries. In addition, they are very easily stored by simply folding them up. Many people keep the bags in the trunk of the car so that they are always handy when shopping.
It is also possible to reuse your old plastic bags. Don’t throw them away, take them with you the next time you go shopping. Believe it or not plastic bags have a pretty hefty life to them and can be reused several times.
Once you have used the life out of your old plastic bags, please don’t throw them away. Recycle them! There are a ton of grocery stores that now collect the bags for recycling. Walmart, for example, is one of them. If you are unable to find a store in your area to recycle the bag, call up the local recycling program to find out how your area recycles plastic bags.
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