How often have you justified throwing away a single-use plastic utensil, plastic water bottle, or plastic shampoo bottle? Do you tell yourself— “just one plastic container can’t do too much harm”? Well, what if the 6 billion people living on this earth all had the same mentality? As consumers begin to demand more single-use plastic products, the production of plastic continues to rise. According to KQED Education, 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually in the United States alone. (Aust, 2017). In this article, we will explore some of the many reasons why plastic is harmful to you and future generations to come.
Plastic Lasts Forever
Well, maybe not forever, but the plastic water bottles and plastic bags that we use today will outlive us! In fact, plastic takes 1000 years to decompose. And if that wasn’t scary enough, thicker plastics will break up into tiny particles called microplastics. I’m sure most of you are thinking, what qualifies a plastic to become a microplastic? According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, microplastics are defined as plastic particles that are smaller than 5mm (Rennie, 2017). Therefore, they typically remain unnoticed to the naked eye— causing them to blend in with sand and dirt.
Animals Consume Microplastics
Animals often mistake plastic debris as food and consume it. Unfortunately, the animal’s body won’t be able to break down the debris, therefore, leaving the animal feeling full of an item that offers no nutritional value. This lack of nutrition can cause the animal to starve to death. As for the plastic products that are not consumed by animals—they will, over time, break down and become what we call microplastics. As the microplastics spread across the ground, they can contaminate the surface water that land animals drink out of.
Did you know sea animals are affected too? Aquatic life is constantly submerged in a swirling sea of microplastics. We understand that microplastics derive from the breakdown of plastic particles into small microscopic bits, but where are they coming from? To answer this common question— “it is estimated that up to 75% of the microplastics found in the ocean are from the breakdown of larger materials (bottles, plastic bags, fishing gear, etc.)” (Rennie, 2017).
We Are What We Eat!
It’s a fact, most humans consume meat. Well, what if I told you that microplastics were found in meat? For the seafood lovers out there, be aware that you may be consuming plastic in your diet. Here’s how it happens, microplastics make their way to the ocean, the sea life opens their mouth to eat or breath, and water along with undetected microplastics come rushing in. Gross, right?
Bottom feeders such as amphipods also consume plastic. Since amphipods are a staple food for sea life, larger sea animals and fish will consume the plastics as they consume the amphipods. The sea life that is not caught will then eventually die, which the amphipods will eat, thus continuing the viscous distribution of microplastics in our oceans. As fish are caught for our consumption, they have a belly full of microplastics… thus their body contains unknown chemicals that YOU consume.
Now It’s Time To Own Up
Who’s really to blame? Many may say plastic manufactures are to blame and that we need to eradicate them, however, let me explain why this thought process is incorrect. Who put the plastic there in the first place? Who used that plastic water bottle instead of investing in a reusable hydro flask? The real harm to our world is our consumption habits.
You Can Help Eliminate Plastic Waste
The easiest way to help eliminate plastic waste is to start small and invest in a reusable mug or water bottle. Even something as simple as using a canvas tote or reusable grocery bag when you go shopping can help. Recycling plastic bottles and aluminum cans in exchange for a little extra spending money can also be effective. It may not seem like much, but remember, it took us years to create this problem, and it will take time to solve it.
Remember, The Earth Is Our Home
The earth is our home, let’s keep it clean. If you’re a business owner or professional, you can help maintain our roads and protect the environment by participating in the Adopt A Highway® or Sponsor A Highway® Program. Our professionally trained crews will remove litter on your behalf, while your business gets all the recognition. To find out more information call (800) 200-0003 today.
Aust, Andrea. (2017, April 14). KQED Education. How Much Plastic Do You Use in A Day? Retrieved from https://ww2.kqed.org/education/2017/04/14/how-much-plastic-do-you-use-in-a-day/
Rennie, Michael. (2017, May 10). International Institute for Sustainable Development. Microplastics: What are they and what can we do about them? Retrieved from https://www.iisd.org/blog/microplastics-what-are-they-and-what-can-we-do-about-them