Plastic; What’s The Big Deal?

When plastic was introduced to the world it was a miracle product. Something so durable, yet flexible. Waterproof and moudable. Cheap and easy to manufacture. Yes, the world had its’ hands on an amazing product.

We then started using it in everything from clothing, toys, electronics, sports equipment to food storage and kitchen ware. As demand grew in the 1960’s, manufacturing costs plummeted until there came a time when we actually don’t place a value on it at all, such as the plastic bags we use at the supermarket.

The global market for plastic products is growing by about 3% per year. It was worth $1.1 trillion in 2016 and is estimated to be worth $1.2 trillion by 2020.

So what’s the problem with this miracle product?

monkey biting empty water bottle

Well, since we apply no value to it, it has become a throw away item. Which seems ludicrous considering it is a product designed to last forever. In fact 50% of the plastic we use is used just once before being thrown away.

Not to mention plastic is created from oil, natural gas or coal, which are all fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, as we know, are non-renewable resources and the extraction of fossil fuels has its own set of complications.  

“But I recycle mine!”

Whilst recycling is the best solution if you do happen to use plastic, this is not a reliable option. Our recycling industry can’t handle the volume of plastic that comes its way and as a result approximately only 9% of plastic is ever recycled. If people want to rely on recycling as a viable solution they should really be making sure they are creating a market for recycled products and only buying products that come in 100% recycled packaging otherwise they are still just contributing more products to an already overflowing waste system. As mentioned by Replas, the only company in Australia to deal with soft plastic as a recycling option, if there’s no demand for their end products, the plastic will end up in landfill.

The next best thing you can hope for is that it goes to landfill. In landfill your plastic will be starved of oxygen and microorganisms so even a biodegradable plastic has very little chance of ever becoming an organic material again. In landfill your plastic will exist for a very long time and as plastic hasn’t been around long enough to know, we can only guess at how long it takes to break down. Know this though, every piece of plastic that has ever been sent to landfill still exists in some form today.

Burning plastic, as they do in many poorer nations, releases dangerous chemicals known to cause respiratory ailments and stress immune systems as well as being potentially carcinogenic. So we won’t go there.

If it’s not dealt with by one of those options, it becomes pollution.

“A century into our love affair with plastic, we’re starting to realise it’s not such a healthy relationship. The very properties for which plastics are famed are also the greatest flaw. Longevity, robustness and abundance have lead to plastic pollution becoming one of the most serious threats to all marine life.” –Tim Silverwood, founder of Take 3

Post consumer plastic pollution is a huge problem. Many people think that beach cleans are necessary because people litter, when the reality is many of the items recovered during clean ups were thoughtfully disposed of but never made it to its intended destination. You may have put that chip packet in the bin, but it may have blown away when the garbage man emptied your bins. If it’s in the gutter it will be washed into storm water drains where it inevitably ends up in the sea. Beach cleans are necessary but it’s only a band-aid solution that deals with the outcome of our plastic addiction and not the route cause.

Every single minute the equivalent of a truck load of plastic enters the the ocean, harming marine life and entering seafood supply chains.

Beach covered in rubbish

Even before that plastic item is in your hands, it has likely already been the cause of pollution in the way of its pre-production pellet. 

You see; these pre-production pellets, often referred to as nurdles, are shipped in containers all over the world to factories where they will be processed into plastic products. Although, if you have taken a closer look at the sand at your local beach (I know Port Phillip Bay is riddled with them), you’ll notice that these nurdles don’t always end up at the factories they’re destined for and are sometimes spilled into the sea, closely resembling fish eggs to hungry marine life.

hands holding nurdles

Like any plastic in our oceans, nurdles accumulate pollutants such as DDE and PCB. These pollutants can be one million times more concentrated on the surface of theses pellets than they are in the ambient seawater. To summarise, these pellets not only kill the birds and fish that eat them, they are also a source of poison in our food chain.

Plastic contains toxic additives.

As previously mentioned, a myriad of petroleum-based chemicals go into the manufacture of plastics. Some can leach into food and drinks and possibly impact human health. Leaching increases when plastic comes in contact with oily or fatty foods, during heating and from old or scratched plastic.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is the main culprit and has been found to mimic the human hormone oestrogen and has been linked to several cancers and genetic damage in infants.

Paddle board amongst water pollution

If those reasons aren't enough to get you double thinking those produce bags then all I can say is that I've tried my best. There are solutions and alternatives to all types of single use plastic, it just requires a change in mindset. Let me know what you struggle with the most about living plastic free and I'll see if we can come up with an alternative!

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