The Awful Reality of ‘Single Use’ Plastics

Listen to this great episode of NPR’s Planet Money:

Humans manufacture one million disposable water bottles every minute of every day. 

Humans still assume that plastic is a disposable material.  

Humans worldwide are creating approximately 330 million tons of plastic every year.

Scientists estimate that the Atlantic Ocean alone currently contains approximately 200 million tons of discarded plastic. 

Humans began producing plastic products around 1950. Plastic does not occur in nature and nature has no good way of dealing with it. 

To address our plastic pollution crisis, we must transition all plastics to biodegradable.  We must first address the ‘source’ problem before we can hope to clean up what has accumulated.

Humans have created appalling plastic pollution by failing to understand that plastics take a thousand years to decompose and “return to nature“.  For the millions of tons of plastic currently scattered across every continent and poisoning every ocean, we currently have no way to speed up the decomposition of existing discarded plastic.   
Our planet has become crowded with discarded plastics that will take a thousand years to decompose.  Water bottles, zip-lock bags, cigarette butts, product packaging, foam mattresses, toothbrushes, grocery bags, disposable diapers, insulation, synthetic oil.  The most common plastic item found washed up on our beaches is the disposable cigarette lighter.   
Today we remain surrounded by every piece of plastic that has ever been thrown away.  It may no longer be recognizable, but it’s still here.
Plastics are a special kind of man-made material.  There are many different kinds of plastics and humans use plastics to solve many challenges.  Plastics can be engineered to solve almost any material problem.  We make a great many useful things out of plastic.  We have failed to assure that disposable plastics can be recycled.
Plastics are intentionally designed to not decompose.  This is part of what makes plastics so useful to us.  However, this has created a pollution catastrophe for our planet.  For eons, humans created artifacts from wood, paper, and metals; materials could be recovered and reused.  Plastics require an entirely new global mindset.  We are now overwhelmed by our discarded plastics.  At present, we have no solution.
Each year more than 8 million tons of plastic finds its way to the ocean.  Scientists believe this amount will triple by 2050.  Plastic ends up in the ocean partly by intentional, illegal dumping.  It also ends up in the ocean by washing into rivers which flow into the ocean.  About 80% of the plastic in the ocean washed into it from land.


Facts from Global Citizen

∙  73% of beach litter worldwide is plastic according to National Geographic.  

∙  Worldwide, about 2 million plastic bags are used every minute.  The average time a plastic bag is used for is 12 minutes.  Plastic bags take a thousand years to decompose.

∙  90% of plastic polluting our oceans is carried by just 10 rivers.  According to researchers from the World Economic Forum, just 10 rivers across Asia and Africa carry 90% of the plastic that ends up in the oceans.

These rivers are in Asia:  Yangtze, Indus, Yellow, Hai He, Ganges, Pearl, Amur, and Mekong.  Two of the rivers are in Africa:  Nile and the Niger.

The World Economic Forum added that the two things all these rivers have in common is high population living in the area and poor waste management systems.

∙  Plastic is killing more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals every year.  A study conducted by the University of Queensland in Australia, based on data collected since the late 1980s, found that Green sea turtles now ingest twice the plastic they did 25 years ago.

According to the United Nations, ingestion of plastic kills an estimated 1 million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year.

Additionally, more than 90% of all birds and fish are believed to have plastic particles in their stomach. It’s because plastic breaks up into tiny pieces in the sea, which are then consumed by fish and other sea animals.

Research from Plymouth University has found that close to 700 species of marine life are facing extinction due to the increase of plastic pollution.

∙  The average person eats 70,000 microplastics each year.  That works out to about 100 bits of microplastic over the course of just one meal, according to a study published in Environmental Pollution.

A team of UK-based researchers put petri dishes with sticky surfaces next to dinner plates in three homes in the UK.  After just 20 minutes, the dishes accumulated an average of 14 microplastics.

∙  Over the past 50 years, world plastic production has doubled.  According to the World Economic Forum, while increasing numbers of organizations and countries are banning plastic use and production, the world’s leading plastic manufacturers are planning to increase production by almost a third over the next five years. 

In 1974, global plastic consumption per year was 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) per capita.  Today, this has increased to 43 kilograms (about 95 pounds) — and this number is still set to increase.

According to National Geographic, if plastic consumption increases at its current rate, by 2050 there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills.


Links to Global Citizen articles:

UK Flooding Uncovers Shocking Scenes of Plastic Pollution

Scientists Accidentally Created a Plastic Bottle-Eating Mutant Enzyme

Scientists Discover Plastic-Eating Caterpillars That Could Help Fight Waste