Pledging To Protect The Planet From Plastic

One of the most dangerous man-made creations and a deathtrap for many, plastic is destroying the global ecosystem and its inhabitants. This World Earth Day 2018, let’s take a look at how plastic affects our planet and what we can do, to stop its damaging effects.

 

5 Ways Plastic Impacts the Planet

  • It depletes a lot of non-renewable resources

Plastic is extracted, processed and shaped using scarce and non-renewable resources like petroleum, natural gas through a host of other energy-intensive procedures. These resources take billions of years to form naturally and using them extensively to manufacture something as harmful as plastic is a wasteful effort. A look at current extraction levels shows that we have oil left enough for just the next 53 years.

energy-sources-5-728
Image: Renewable v/s Non-renewable sources of energy.

 

  • It creates dangerous landfills 

Considering how many types of plastics are non-recyclable and a threat to the earth, incineration was the only feasible method of disposal. But given how we no longer possess the energy and resources needed to incinerate plastic and how we do not possess the technology to curb the pollution it leads to, this option no longer remains viable. That leaves just one option open – fill them in landfills.

As of today, 300 million tons of plastic are made each year, 50% of which are disposed-off in landfills. Chemical leaching from plastic into the ground affects the food we eat and the water we drink. Landfills that crumble and dissolve into water bodies pollute the ocean and threaten the lives of animals.

Kenya plastic
Image: A large landfill in Dandora, Kenya. This is how most landfills around the world look like.

 

  • It pollutes the ocean

The worst impact of plastic on the planet is its impact on the oceans. The Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch contains 7 million tons of plastic that go down to a depth of 9 feet. 9% of the fish in the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch contains plastic waste in their diet. Most of this plastic comes from land after washing down from factories and oil refineries on the shore.

Plastic garbage patches exist in the Indian Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, North Pacific Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean and South Pacific Ocean. Essentially, all the oceans in the world today are polluted with plastic; poisoning the water and endangering marine species.

 

  •  It kills animals

Plastic is the number 1 cause for the death of millions of marine animals. Today, more than a 100 million marine animals are killed each year as a result of plastic in the oceans. Research shows:

  • More than 50% of sea turtles are ingesting plastic on a daily basis; so much so that their digestive system is severely obstructed.

 

Turtle plastic
Image: A Hawksbill turtle lies unconscious after a plastic wrapper caught around its mouth, restricting breathing.

 

  • About 400 stellar sea lions off the coast of Alaska and British Columbia get their fins and throats entrapped in plastic bands, plastic covers and rubber bands each year, which eventually leads to drowning and death.

 

Sea lion
Image: A sea lion caught in plastic wires and old fishing gear.

 

  • 98% of the Laysan albatross population has died of internal organ damage after ingesting plastic when hunting fish.

 

Albatros plastic
Image: Dead body of a Laysan albatross filled with ingested plastic.

 

  • Approximately 31% of fish, dolphin and whale populations ingest microfibers from plastic bags and bottles floating in rivers and oceans after confusing them for plankton and algae; of which 22% die due to digestive system obstruction due to plastic.

 

Whale caught
Image: A whale caught in plastic nets left behind by fishermen.

 

Whale plastic
Image: 4kgs worth of plastic found in the body of the Cuvier whale that washed-up dead off the coast of Norway.

 

  • It hurts people

People who consume fish that have plastic in their digestive systems, people who accidentally inhale/consume plastic in the form of sandwich wrappers, people who heat food/beverages in plastic containers (leading to chemical contamination of food from the plastic) and people who work with/around plastic, may suffer from a host of problems such as digestive concerns, asthma attacks, premature/stillborn births in pregnant women, miscarriage, male infertility, cancer and abnormal sexual characteristics development.

 

sea-of-garbage-2
Image: Rag pickers search through the plastic-filled Citarum river in Jakarta. They form a large part of the population that die from plastic-induced illnesses. 

 

What can we do to save the planet from plastic?

There are many things we can do to reduce plastic pollution in the world. Try out these tips and make a difference:

  • Replace regular plastic with bioplastics and biodegradable plastics and recycled plastics.
  • Identify the plastic you depend on and try to find alternatives to replace them. For example, carry your own tableware to the office – metal forks, spoon, knives, cups and plates – instead of using the plastic ones found at the office.
  • Avoid purchasing bottled water. Instead, use the water fountain or watering drums placed in public spaces and offices. Carry your own bottle and fill it at a water station.
  • Do not buy beauty products that contain microbeads as one of the ingredients. Choose scrubs, soaps and creams that use only natural ingredients like sea salt, yogurt, oatmeal and more.
  • Carry home-cooked food. The lesser take-out you buy; the lesser plastic boxes will be manufactured.
  • Take jute/cotton bags to the grocery store when making purchases. These bags may cost more than plastic carry bags, but they are sturdier, last longer, look more beautiful and are environmentally-friendly.
  • Make your purchases in bulk. This will discourage stores from stocking plastic bag in huge quantities. You can also ask your grocer to stock cloth bags instead.
  • Consider second-hand purchasing. From toys to lunch boxes, you can find many items, still in good condition in yard sales and thrift stores. Lesser demand for plastic translates to lesser production of plastic items.
  • Support and uphold the plastic ban in your state. Use only cloth bags when necessary.
  • Recycle. Take a look at this guide to plastic recycling to know what you need to do.

Plastics are a danger to the world. Today, we have innumerable alternatives to this white poison, which can help make the world a safe place. As creatures capable of intelligent thoughts and actions, it’s up to us to save the planet from harm. If we don’t, it could only mean the end.

For it’s just as celebrated writer Evo Morales said, “Sooner or later we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

Featured Image: End Plastic Pollution

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