Plastic pollution is a growing issue all over the world, and it’s become increasingly clear that this material is wreaking havoc on the environment. In order to take steps forward in helping solve this problem, we must use less plastic. But why is plastic so bad for the environment, and how is it impacting our oceans?
In this article, we explain why plastic is having such a negative impact, and why you should consider using less of it to promote sustainability, and importantly, protect our planet.
Why is plastic bad for the environment?
We’re aware of the fact that plastic is bad for the environment – but do you understand exactly why this is? The truth is, over the last century, humans have produced and used a lot of plastic, approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced globally each year. Plastic is cheap, lightweight yet strong, and versatile, and there are many uses for it.
Single-use plastic is of particular concern as it often has little or no recycling value (technically most plastics are recyclable, but many aren’t economically viable to do so).
Therefore, when when plastic is disposed of, it eventually ends up in the ground, in the air and in our oceans. Around eight to 13 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans every year, the majority of which (80%) originates from land, putting marine animals in danger and polluting beaches.
Unlike other more sustainable products and biodegradable materials, plastic tends to stick around for a long time. In fact, it can take hundreds of years for just one item to decompose – if at all. For example, the average plastic shopping bag takes around 20 years to break down, while it’s thought that the lifespan of a single plastic straw is 200 years. Even more alarmingly still, a single-use plastic bottle is said to take 450 years to decompose, and a disposable nappy takes 500 years.
Even if plastic does begin to decompose, it can then break down into microplastics. Like the name suggests, microplastics are tiny plastic particles, and they are usually defined as being less than 5mm in diameter. There are two types of microplastics: primary and secondary. Primary microplastics are used in products, such as in cosmetics, while secondary microplastics are plastic particles that are the result of the breakdown of larger plastic objects. Microplastics are often visible on beaches as tiny multicoloured plastic bits in the sand, and they can end up in the ocean too, where they are often consumed by marine animals transferring them into food chains. Micro-plastics are also found in the air, the risks of which aren’t yet known.
What’s more, the majority of plastics contain toxins and chemicals that come from the production of fuels such as gas, oil and even coal, meaning that this material also contributes to global warming. The more we rely on plastic, the longer we will demand these fuels, which in turn, will continue to have a hugely negative impact on our planet.
Why do we need to protect the ocean?
Plastic poses a huge threat to the environment and living creatures all over the globe, but it is especially damaging to our oceans and the wildlife that calls it home. The truth is, our oceans provide many benefits to our planet and they’re worth protecting, here’s why.
Covering 70% of the earth’s surface, our oceans produce over half of the world’s oxygen, and they store 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere, playing a crucial role in the air you breathe every day. Our oceans help with climate regulation too, transporting heat from the equator to the poles which in turn, has an impact on weather patterns.
The planet’s oceans are also home to millions of diverse unique species of fish, mammals and other aquatic wildlife, from turtles and penguins, to sharks and whales, and everything else in between, all of which play an important role in the earth’s ecosystems. Sadly, there are many marine animals that are at risk of becoming endangered or extinct as a result of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Our oceans are essential for all life on earth, so it’s important that we make changes now to protect the planet.
Why using less plastic is important
In order to protect our oceans right now and into the future, making a conscious effort to use less plastic is a must. Avoiding ‘pointless plastic’ can be easier than you think. For example, you could switch from regular plastic-wrapped toilet paper and kitchen roll to plastic-free toilet paper and kitchen roll instead.
You can also make greener choices by using a refillable water bottle instead of single use bottles, taking reusable shopping bags to the supermarket rather than buying plastic bags each time, and simply ditching plastic straws in favour of paper or re-usable metal versions. These are just a few of the small day-to-day changes you could make to help make a difference.