Plastic, the magical material of the century, it was our vibranium so to say. These synthetic polymers were durable, cheap, sterile, convenient, it was a wonder of technology. And for the past few decades it had changed the way we live and further our progress a species. Plastics made businesses faster, cheaper, easier, It helped our daily routines, and fixed many of our problems. To the point that nowadays almost everything is partially made from plastic. We’ve used so much plastic that we have grown dependant on it, so much that it has ceased to be revolutionary.
As wonderful as it was, our relationship with plastic is a toxic one. Although it had given many benefits, the damage it had done is also tremendous. Plastic pollution and waste is killing the environment and its inhabitants. You’ve probably already heard of the news last year, about the sperm whale that washed up on the shores in Indonesia with 6 kg of plastics in its intestines. As shocking as it is, sadly this isn’t the first time. Still in 2018 alone a pilot whale died due to plastic congestion on Thailand and on 2015 a whale washed up on the shores of spain only to be found filled with plastics and even a drum kit. Even more unsettling is the death of a coelacanth, the “living fossil”, due to swallowing a plastic bag. There are still many more similiar incidents out there, and plenty of other animals that are also suffering due to plastic pollution and waste (m sure you’ve seen the deformed turtle or the whale shark with the nets).
This is a red flag for us as a species, all this damage will create a turmoil to the balance of the ecosystem in which it harms us back, in one way or another. We can already see how its affecting us humans negatively. and then there’s another threat, an invisible one, microplastics. when plastic is exposed to UV radiation it breaks down into small particles known as microplastics. Now what’s so dangerous about these is that it is small so that it gets everywhere and gets consumed by many organisms which then travels up the foodchain. Zooplankton eats microplastics, small fishes eat zooplanktons, and so on, till it eventually ends up on our plates and stomachs. whats even more concerning is that this has been happening for quite a time. 8 out of 10 babies, and nearly all adults have measurable amounts of phalates (a common plastic additive), and microplastics have been found in honey, sea salt, and tap water. This is concerning since many of the chemical substances in plastic are dangerous to our health.
And so we think “we should just ban plastics” right? You see unfortunately the issue with plastic is complex and its been bugging everybody for the past decade. things are more complicated and we cant rid plastic just yet. Plastic pollution Is not the only environmental challenge we face. Some of the substitutes we’d use for plastic have higher environmental impact in other ways. For example according to a recent study by the Danish government, making a single use plastic bag requires far little energy and produces far lower carbon dioxide emission compared to a reusable cotton bag.
Plastic also helps solve many problems that we don’t have very good answers for at the moment. Globally 1/3 of all food that’s produced is never eaten and ends up rotting away on landfills where it produces methane (which is one of the causes of global warming). And the best way of prevent food spoiling is still plastic packaging. However, there might still be hope, with new materials (look up cassava plastic, oh and its local made, way to go Indonesia!) and other solutions. Still, we cant overlook the numerous other factors and variables that we must calculate first. You get the idea.
Although things might seem bleak, we can still make a difference, and your daily actions still has impact. There are many things you can do. Obviously recycle and reuse plastics, but what you can also do is to find out more about campaigns and movements that are tackling this issue in creative ways. Support them or just share the information to raise awareness. It is also a good idea to pressure companies and governments to take the necessary steps to keep our environments clean. (this is possible, one of the great examples is Iceland and how the people changed its toothpaste industry, look it up!) Because what needs to happen is a total revolution on the industries and our habits. It wont be easy and It wont be fast and we need to do this all together. Hey at least you’ve already acknowledged that there is a problem, that’s a first step. Little baby steps to a better mankind.
Point is, we are all living on earth, and unfortunately we do not have any other alternatives, so we gotta take good care of this one and only place we call home. Plastic pollution is a complicated problem. We’ve found our vibranium and made great progress with it. But then things got a little out of hand. So we must be careful and responsible with its use, for with great power comes great responsibility!