Plastic pollution is a deceptively simple problem with a very complicated solution. It occurs when plastic accumulates in the air, land, or water, which happens quickly and easily. Plastic is used everywhere in many products, making up 10% of the world’s waste, and can take hundreds or thousands of years to break down. Since we generate it much faster than it breaks down, it’s easy to see how plastic pollution has become a huge problem.
Where Does Plastic Pollution Come From?
Plastic is found in most of the products we use every day. It’s easy to decide to use disposable plastic products when you’re on the run, and even when you think you’re using paper products instead, you may well be using plastic. It is often found in the linings of paper and cardboard milk cartons and coffee cups.
Plastic beads are also found in personal care products like soap and makeup, and they cause plastic pollution in water when they wash down the sink. Fishnets also leach toxins or break, causing more water pollution and landfill leachate contaminates both land and water.
Additionally, toxins such as phthalates are emitted from your vinyl flooring, wall coverings, food packaging, and medical devices, while BPA gets into your food and drink from packaging and cans. Even recycling plastic can lead to new forms of toxin releases and plastic pollution.
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How Does It Affect the Environment?
Plastics can be very harmful both for us and for our environment. Since they are often made from petroleum and natural gas, they contribute to global warming and increase the demand for environmentally harmful oil drilling, which can cause oil spills that devastate entire ecosystems.
The plastic itself contains many toxins. Some of them are endocrine disruptors and can alter genitalia development in newborns, while others cause cardiovascular problems or diabetes. Since the toxins introduced through incineration, landfill leachate, and going down the drain, neither we nor the environment are safe.
Organisms such as plankton absorb tiny plastic beads, and the effects of the toxins increase as larger organisms eat the plankton, compounding the concentration of the toxins as they travel up the food chain. Whenever plastics are ingested by animals, they kill them both by clogging their stomachs and by poisoning them. Animals that don’t ingest plastic can also be strangled or suffocated by litter.
Additionally, small pieces of plastic can help transport tiny organisms such as barnacles so they can become invasive species, competing with and often eventually suffocating the native species and further disrupting the food web. Plastic also floats on the sea surface, disrupting habitats by blocking predatory birds from hunting and underwater ecosystems from receiving adequate sunlight, further compounding the environmental disaster.
How Can We Help?
There are many ways that you can help reduce the problems caused by plastic pollution. The simplest way is to refuse to use plastic as much as possible by buying reusable grocery bags, food containers, and water bottles.
You can also help by educating your friends, families, and other community members about the dangers of plastic pollution and by convincing them to reduce their plastic use as well. If you find that you have to use plastic water bottles or other plastic items for any reason, it is also a good idea to either reuse them for their original purposes or to re-purpose them.
Plastic water bottles can easily become watering cans, desk organizers, or even chandeliers. However, some plastic items are hard to reuse or re-purpose since plastics are found in everything, from packaging to cell phones to ink cartridges. To deal with hard-to-recycle items, you can visit websites such as this one for ideas. If we remember to refuse, reduce, reuse, re-purpose and recycle plastic products, we can help solve the plastic pollution problem.
This is a guest post by Bob Gorman, a freelance blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @bob_gorman82.
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