For far too long, we have taken our environment for granted, and are now bearing the consequences. With our refusal to adopt more environment friendly habits over time, which simultaneously could have helped us adapt to the changing times, things had only become difficult. But now, things are slated to get worse if we don’t get into the corrective mode, and this particularly holds true for the plastic avalanche we have helped create, and which is now on the verge of drowning us. We have particularly abused plastic products (bags, straws, packing materials) to the hilt, not caring about managing the post-use waste that is generated on their disposal. More than 50% of the plastics in circulation are used only once before they are thrown away as waste. Our readers might be interested in knowing that the amount of plastic that is thrown away annually can circle the earth four times. Currently, we can only recover around 5% of the plastic bags that we produce. About 97% of plastics ever made still exist.
Apart from a small amount of plastic that is incinerated, every other piece of plastic ever made continues to exist in some form or shape. And that’s bad news for us humans. Why? The human body can absorb plastic chemicals. Plastic contains certain carcinogenic chemicals, which can potentially lead to cancer in the long run, and also alter hormones. Worse still, studies have been conducted wherein micro-plastics have been found in our food items as well. Studies prove that approximately 93% of Americans aged 6 and above, tested positive for BPA (that is Bisphenol A, which is a material used for synthesis of plastics).
Now, let’s talk about the most recent crisis to have come to our attention. You might have heard and seen recent reports all over social media about how our discarded plastic waste has been wrecking havoc on oceans and marine life. And there’s good reason for that. Billions of pounds of plastics make up around 40% of the world’s ocean surfaces today. An estimated 22% of cetaceans, 44% of all seabird species, coral reefs, sea turtles, and a huge list of other marine life affected by this menace, have been documented to have plastic in or around their bodies. Besides this, there are so many ocean animals which are killed every year from plastic, mostly due to choking or swallowing it.
Plastic does not degrade easily. It takes around 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Annually, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. Considering this scale and pace of consumption, Ellen MacArthur Foundation noted that by year 2050, the total amount of plastic waste in our oceans will be greater than the total number of fish in it.
It takes around 12 million barrels of oil to process 100 billion plastic bags. It clearly shows that a lot of petroleum oil is required to manufacture these plastic materials. 72 billion gallons of water is required annually to make plastic bottles. In today’s times, when both oil and water are becoming scarce, and need to be conserved, their use in such large quantities to produce end products which are some of the biggest pollutants across this globe, sounds like an exercise in wastefulness of unimaginable magnitude.
Currently, Circular Economy is the hottest topic in the field of sustainability. To give you a brief idea about it, it is a concept which promotes a circular, closed-loop model unlike the more popular linear economic model that is usually followed. But when we talk about closing the loop or achieving circularity, ousting plastics from our value chain is indispensible, especially wherever we cannot take responsibility of its waste management aspect.
Identifying the need to remove plastics (especially single use plastics) from our consumption patterns, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) chose ‘beat plastic pollution’ as the theme for this year’s World Environment Day. Hopefully this article will help you understand in some capacity exactly why this theme is so important for each one of us. Our habits, our usage patterns, and more specifically, our greed, have taken this planet to the point where things are being held together only by a stitch. Let’s work to improve the situation. Let’s try and ensure that even if our actions aren’t enough to reverse the damage, our future actions don’t make the situation worse.