Following the popularization of plastic in the 1960’s, it is now one of the most broadly used materials in the world. Plastic is known to be affordable, durable and efficient, making it present in every household. The frequent use also makes it one of the most discarded materials in the world. The production of plastic, the uses and disposals cause health issues and results in the deterioration of the environment. Society is not aware of the severity of the effects of plastic waste, therefore not much progress is made to recover.
Attempts have been made with positive results, but with new policies come new complications. The drawbacks of the disposal of plastic include pollution, the harm of marine life and the ecosystems. Although there are various complications, plastic waste is the primary predator of wildlife.
Many oceanic creatures are harmed by littered remains and suffer the consequences of society’s negligence regarding plastic waste. According to The New York Times’ article “Plastic Junk Found in Dead Whale in Indonesia”, the author, Daniel Victor mentions that “Over one thousand pieces of plastic were found inside the remains of a dead sperm whale.
” This is one of countless occurrences of marine animals being incapacitated by the plastic leftover in the sea. Although the damage doesn’t always cause death, Victor brings to light how “Plastics can trap marine life and choke them or prevent them from being able to swim. They also might eat the plastic, harming their digestive systems.” This shows how not only are the whales affected, but a majority of the marine life.
Measures have been taken to reduce the amount of debris in the ocean, but it has not done enough for the wildlife that has been battered by the material that has the incapability to decompose.
Another way plastic can cause damage is through degradation. Plastic does not break down, it remains the same no matter what conditions, but the properties of the material do change. “Plastic is known to release a number of gasses during degradation… the most popular plastics used release two greenhouse gasses, methane and ethylene, when exposed to constant solar radiation.” (“Production of Methane and Ethylene from Plastic in the Environment”) This means that over time, the plastic releases gasses that add to the already existing pollution crisis. Landfills become greenhouse gas factories, and even the plastic in the ocean releases unnecessary gasses. Sarah-Jeanne Royer mentions that “Plastics that have been out in the environment for years and are submerged in water for at least 152 days also release hydrocarbon gasses.” The environmental damage that plastic waste causes sometimes goes unnoticed because of the lack of awareness.
A surfer named Stiv Wilson, who was impacted by the trash at the beaches, became a journalist and sailed the ocean experiencing firsthand how it is has been impacted by the plastic waste. He writes “it is exceptionally sad and difficult to explain what plastic pollution in a gyre looks like, but when you see plastic films floating on the surface, two weeks from land under full sail, it starts to give you the cosmic heebie-jeebies.” (Opposing Viewpoints: The Environment, pgs. 166-167) Wilson shows his emotion towards seeing the damage for himself instead of only hearing about it.
Silva also mentions how “environmentalists were blamed for boasting the Texas sized garbage island myth” A garbage patch in the North Pacific was compared to the size of the state of Texas. Although the hyperbole was used for dramatic effect to demonstrate how bad the garbage pile is, the environmentalists were accused of spreading misinformation. The writer combats this by stating that “they have bulletproof facts.” (pg167) This example demonstrates that people do debunk the thought of so much plastic waste being in the ocean and believe it is a myth.
With all the plastic that fills the ocean, landfills and almost everywhere in the world, there have been steps taken to improve the use and waste of plastic. While some plans have been removed and replaced with new ones, there has been instances where it caused improvement and some that didn’t. In “Stemming the Flow of Plastic Waste” in The Chemical Engineer (pg. 8), it talks about some of the laws and regulations. It starts of by mentioning that “Europe has recommended a restriction on single use plastics; the United Nations has released a policy on how to restrict the use of plastic and there has been a vast amount of proposals from people and companies all over the world to weed out the plastics that are causing extreme damage to the environment.” With these efforts, there is no doubt that soon enough there will be progress made.
Some countries have started to take action on the most popular litter, consisting of “balloon sticks, cotton swab sticks, plastic straws and plastic cutlery…” (pg. 9) New laws in Europe and in some states in the United States ban some of these materials. Also, Stiv Wilson wrote in his popular article “In Defense of Plastic Bags Ban”, he states that “…the only way to eliminate the hazards of plastic bags, …is to ban them” (Opposing Viewpoints: The Environment pg. 165)
Countries including the United States, United Kingdom, India, Australia and others have already acted upon the plastic bag problem and banned them. These actions are only the start, and while some have received backlash, they have provided good results.
The article, “Stemming the Flow of Plastic Waste” also gives excellent insights. “Only nine percent of the nine billion tons of plastic manufactured since the 1950’s was recycled. Twelve percent was incinerated, and the leftover seventy nine percent is either dumped in landfills or in the environment. If society continues these habits, there will be twelve billion tons of plastic in the landfills and in the environment by year 2050.” (pg. 8) Being aware of the facts and the possible outcomes provide realization motivates more countries to step up.
The United Nations conducted a research to examine the “progress that has been made around the world for diminishing unnecessary plastic.” (pg. 9) While there is no specific calculation of the impact these countries have made, it was very clear that the results were better than expected, with clear improvement in their environment. Their report, “Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability” mentions that “30% of the countries noticed reduced consumption or less pollution” (pg. 9) Although it is a small change, it is still improvement, but even then some governments are against banning certain products. They believe that it will create a “black market” for plastic bags, plastic straws and other popular plastics that are used. People will find ways to produce the banned plastics, and without reinforcement, the progress would all go to waste.
In summation, plastic is used in almost everything because of how easily accessible it is, but it has the biggest impact of the deterioration of the environment. Plastic waste damages the marine life, natural ecosystems, and adds to the already existing pollution to the Earth. Landfills are used to hold garbage, and while a countless amount of plastic does end up there, the ocean hold most of the plastic in the world.
While landfills do help, the plastic does not decompose, so it ends up sitting there for decades, releasing gasses into the air. Countless efforts are made to reduce the debris that lands in the ocean, and even the use of unnecessary plastic at all. Those regulations come with positive results, but major backlash from society. Being aware of how plastic is used, the harm it causes and the steps that can be taken to prevent that harm helps the efforts of eliminating plastic waste. The crisis has become popularized by the newer generation, making it possible for the future to look brighter and healthier through the environment and society.