What started out as a simple solution to packaging has morphed into a massive problem of waste, pollution, and climate crisis. How did we get here?
There’s rumoured to be an eighth continent on Earth. Located in the Pacific Ocean, its landscape is colourful and variable. It’s primarily composed of plastic. Yes, plastic.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, comprises plastic refuse, and is cause for concern. Moving with the intertidal currents, it floats on the ocean’s surface and beneath it as microplastics.
The state of the planet is such that we no longer have plastic overflowing in our landfills but now also in our great seas. How did we get it so wrong?
By the time of the Second World War, plastic had found many uses and saw a boom in production. The world has not looked back since.
In present times, we have a number of different types of plastic, ranging from PVC to PET bottles, made with a variety of source materials. With the current state of affairs, plastic is using up finite resources and clogging up the natural world.
So how does plastic get into the ocean?
The short answer: through improperly disposed waste methods.
Plastic finds its way into rivers, which lead out into seas and oceans across the world.
Microplastics are often the largest culprits – they are microscopic particles that are too small and fine to be caught. They are found in a variety of sources, from toiletries to fabric in clothing.
These microplastics have already entered the food chain and have been known to find their way into our food as well. Fishing gear, industrial waste, and illegal dumping also compound the problem.
What problems does this cause?
Well, no living being should be eating plastic. Yet, our everyday food contains microplastics in them.
Another major concern is that plastic pollution is severely affecting marine ecosystems. In recent years, there have been a number of stories of turtles with straws stuck in their nostrils, to whales full of plastics, to other mammals getting trapped in plastic, drowning from ingesting plastic, or caught by ghost fishing.
Is there a way around this?
Our best bet is to start being more conscious of the way we are consuming non-biodegradable materials like plastic. Shifting to using reusable items – from metallic straws to cloth bags for shopping and avoiding plastic packaging – these are ways to actively reduce use of plastic.
Packaging is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to using plastic. Companies need to realise their impact and take action to reduce their pollution. Governments need to invest in better infrastructure to recycle waste and reduce the amount of plastic that is carelessly disposed of. And individuals like you and I, need to reject the use and throw of plastic, in all its forms.