Is Plastic Really THAT Bad?: Part 1

The Nitty Gritty Truth about Plastic.

You may have been asking yourself this question, and it is a good one to ask, especially if this is your first time hearing about anything to do with zero waste or about the plastic-free movement. This post is 1 of 3 about plastic – what it is, why there is a movement away from it, what to do with it, and the complexities of attempting to live a plastic-free life.

WHAT IS PLASTIC?

Plastic was invented in the late 19th century, but wasn’t really produced as it is now until the 1950’s. Plastic is a material made from fossil fuels, so all the issues that come along with fossil fuel industry is connected to the production and use of plastic.

Since the 1950’s 9.2 billion tons of plastic has been produced and of that, more than 6.9 billion tons became waste. Half of all plastic ever produced was made in the last 13 years. 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin. In America 30 million tons of plastic is produced per year, with only 8% getting recycled. 33% of all plastic produced is for one-time use (for example: plastic bags, water bottles, and utensils), which are used once and then thrown away.

There are also toxic chemicals in plastic that end up seeping into our bodies and into the ground when brought to the landfill. The production of plastic requires large chemical processing plants that releases many different pollutants into the air. This material lasts for a long time, and when it breaks down it does so in to smaller and smaller pieces. Estimation for plastic to biodegrade is anywhere from 450 years to never.

There is a large amount of plastic that is making its way into our oceans, with a prediction that at the current rate of plastic production there will be more plastic than fish by 2050. The sun breaks this plastic down into tiny micro-sized pieces that are ingested by those that call the ocean its home. Experts are now talking about the risk to humans ingesting micro-plastics when eating fish. Plastic negatively impacts wildlife globally in many different ways, like eating it because they mistake it for food. Just google this and you’ll be met with disturbing and sad images of dead wales and fish with stomachs filled with plastic, or animals with plastic around their body threatening their lives.

If you are looking for more details about plastic and its global impact, read through this National Geographic‘s article.

WHY NOT JUST RECYCLE MORE?

Somewhere in recent history we started pushing RECYCLING, and ignoring the REFUSE & REUSE that typically accompanied it. Recycling is not bad, but it is a tool to delay the inevitable crisis of a lack of landfill space. It is also simply a way to get more uses out of our materials, but ALL materials (except aluminum) has a limited amount of times it can be recycled, and then will inevitably end up in the landfill anyway. For example, when milk jugs are remade into a children’s toy, unless there’s a child perpetually using this toy given it stays in decent shape, it will end up in the landfill.

For more information about recycling (and recycling specific in Niagara), check out my post “Tour of the Niagara Recycling Centre.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

Our world is growing FAST! So fast that there are concerns about whether the earth’s resources can sustain it. Check out the chart below…

Annual world population since 10 thousand bce for owid
source of this chart can be found here

So, it doesn’t make sense to continue to create products that service such a large population that are made of a material that cannot break down. Also, with global warming it doesn’t make sense to continue to produce a product that contributes so much to it instead working to break free from fossil fuels.

But does it make sense to completely eliminate plastic? What do we do with our existing plastic? What if it’s our only option? Is it as bad as other materials such as glass and stainless steel?

All good questions, and all I hope to answer in parts 2 & 3, so stay tuned!

Sources used: National Geographic, Plastic Pollution Coalition & The Story of Stuff.

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