Remember the line from Aqua's 1997 song 'Barbie' - 'Life in plastic, it's fantastic'? What used to be a fun song has turned into our killing reality. Take a look around - what do you see? It's probably a plastic keyboard, a plastic cup or a plastic toy. Or, maybe, you are sitting on a plastic chair right now. Plastic is virtually everywhere - it's the very thing the world runs on nowadays. It goes without saying that plastic is an amazing material - it's cheap, lightweight, and wearproof. However, the essential drawback of plastic is its nonbiodegradability.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Every year we:
- use approximately 102.1 billion plastic supermarket bags;
- discard 2.4 million tons of PET plastic (drink bottles, automotive parts, etc.);
- kill about 1 million sea creatures throwing plastic items away into the world's ocean.
Researchers from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation warn that by 2050, plastic waste will outweigh fish in the seas! Obviously, the plastic problem is too big to ignore!
Hasta la vista, baby!
So, if plastic doesn't biodegrade, where do all those food containers, bottles, supermarket bags, toothpaste tubes, etc. go?
Option 1: Recycling
You have probably noticed that some plastic items have recycling symbols on them; however, only 9.5% of plastic was recycled in 2014. In fact, those symbols usually mean that rather than being fully recycled, your plastic milk carton will be downcycled into a low-quality plastic item that, in its turn, will go to waste in the end.
Option 2: Landfills
A lot of plastic products end up in landfills where they will remain for 500 or even 1, 000 years before they start decomposing.
Option 3: Ocean
A study conducted by UC Santa Barbara in 2015 shows that approximately 9 million tons of plastic items are thrown away to the world's ocean each year. Some may think that massive garbage patches floating somewhere in the Pacific Ocean are located too far from the US borders to give much thought to the matter.
Well, what about our Great Lakes then? Plastic beads found in almost every facial scrub or toothpaste pose a pollution threat to the world's largest body of freshwater! The most awful thing is that fish often confuse those plastic beads with natural food.
Call me Superman
However drastic the plastic problem is, there are several simple and easy-to-follow rules to improve the situation:
- use a stainless-steel straw instead of a plastic one;
- use cotton shopping carry bags instead of disposable plastic supermarket bags;
- say no to chewing gum - it's made from either polyethylene or polyvinyl acetate;
- reuse glass bottles instead of buying bottled water;
- buy a reusable lunchbox;
- use cloth diapers for your baby when possible;
- use DIY coffee scrubs instead of beauty products with microbeads;
This planet is the only home we have, so we are responsible for it. Remember the quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's "The Little Prince" - "It is a question of discipline. When you've finished your own toilet in the morning then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet just so with the greatest care"? So simple yet so wise!