Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic objects and particles, which include plastic bottles, bags, and microbeads in the Earth’s environment, adversely affecting wildlife, wildlife habitat, and humans. To this day, the biggest source of plastic waste is single-use plastics.
Single-use plastics also include packaging materials. Because plastic is versatile, hygienic, lightweight, and flexible, it is known to be the perfect material for packaging goods. It accounts for the largest usage of plastics worldwide.
Plastic is used in numerous packaging applications including containers, bottles, drums, trays, boxes, cups and vending packaging, baby products, and protective packaging.
The problem with single-use plastics
40 percent of our plastic waste was used just once.
Every year, we use several billion items such as bags, bottles, trays, and food packaging. A lot of us are careless with packaging and leave it behind as litter.
However, there are also places where people can’t do anything about it. Often, this is because there is no waste collection system available in their area.
Either way, these plastics end up as litter and may stay in landfills for a very long time. Worse, they could even be thrown to the ocean where they could pose risks to marine animals.
Other causes of plastic pollution
However, It is not just about single-use plastic.
We do not realize that we pollute the environment with plastic.
- Car tires are made of rubber and plastic which wears out while driving. Through this friction, thousands of microplastics get released onto the road, and in the air.
- Machine washing and drying of synthetic clothes let loose millions of microfibers into the drainage system.
- Personal care products and paint can also contain microplastics that wash away in wastewater.
- There is even a kind of plastic that is incorporated into cigarette filters and even into chewing gums.
- Plastic is used in a growing range of applications in the construction industry. They have great versatility and combine excellent strength to weight ratio, durability, cost-effectiveness, low maintenance, and corrosion resistance which make plastics an economically attractive choice throughout the construction sector.
- Electricity powers almost every aspect of our lives. Everywhere that we find electricity, we also find plastics.
Why is there plastic pollution?
Plastic pollutants are categorized into micro, meso, or macro debris, based on size. Because it is inexpensive and durable, plastic production by people is naturally high.
However, the chemical structure of plastic materials makes them resistant to degradation. As a result they are slow to degrade.
Studies show that around 380 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide annually. An estimated 6.3 billion tons of plastic had been produced since the 1950s. While an estimated 9 percent of that has been recycled, a bigger 12 percent has been incinerated.
How does plastic pollution affect us?
Plastic pollution can afflict land, waterways, and oceans. An estimated 1.1 to 8.8 million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean from coastal communities each year.
Marine animals, for one, can be harmed by mechanical effects, such as entanglement in plastic objects. They could also have health problems related to the ingestion of plastic waste or through exposure to chemicals within plastics. The effects on humans include hormonal disruption.
Common questions about the biggest source of plastic waste
What sectors use plastic?
Plastic is used across almost every sector. This includes packaging, building and construction, in textile consumer products, transportation, electrical and electronics and industrial machinery.
Is plastic important for innovations?
More patterns are filed early each year in plastics than for glass, metal, and paper combined. There are constant innovations occurring with polymers that can help revolutionize industries. These include shape-memory polymers, light-responsive polymers, and self-healing polymers. All these innovations are aimed to reduce the negative effects of plastic but are yet to be proven effective in doing so.
What is the most used plastic product?
Recent studies show that both high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) are the most used plastic products. This is because these plastic types are most commonly utilized for food packaging, grocery bags, and shampoo bottles.
In nature, there is no waste that does not decompose. People, in the search for convenience and affordability, have invented plastic. Because plastic will always be unnatural in the environment because of its properties, decomposing them will be impossible.
Though making plastic is inexpensive and the applications of the materials are endless, we should start thinking twice before using them when we know we cannot reuse them. They almost always end up in the environment, causing more plastic pollution.
The best thing to do is to switch to reusable utensils and containers, follow the government’s advice in cutting down plastic use, and start thinking about how to help the world fight global warming and climate change.