On a daily basis we use plastics in our lives, be it for shopping, that carrier bag that we buy in the supermarket, the straw we use to take our favourite beverage, and not forgetting the spoon that we stir our favourite cup of coffee. But have you ever stopped to think about where these plastics go once you toss them into the bin?
Since the 1950s, the production of plastic has outpaced that of almost every other material. It is interesting to note that much of the plastic we produce is designed to be thrown away after being used only ONCE. Now imagine the entire life cycle of single use plastic, which takes almost a million years to produce the raw material, for it to be used only ONCE. That’s right ONCE. The majority of us throw away plastic without even a single thought to the effect this will have on our environment. It is said that only 9% of the 9 billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled. The challenge with this is that it has net effect on our landfills, our oceans and the environment. Sadly, if current consumption patterns and waste management practices continue, then by 2050 there will be around 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter in landfills and the environment.
One may wonder what single use plastics are?
Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, that are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging. Statistically the world is said to produce roughly 300 million tons of plastic each year, and half of it is disposable!
So why not just recycle single use plastic and not just ban it?
The nature of petroleum based disposable plastic makes it difficult to recycle and they have to add new virgin materials and chemicals to it to do so, making the process quite complex and costly.
So, what is the Problem?
Petroleum based plastic is not biodegradable and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water and finds its way into the ocean. Yes, that 1 spoon that you used today in the coffee shop and threw away finds its way into the landfills. It will degrade (break down) into tiny particles after many years. In the process of breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals (additives that were used to shape and harden the plastic) which make their way into our food and water supply. These toxic chemicals are now being found in our bloodstream and the latest research has found them to disrupt the Endocrine system which can cause cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity and many other ailments.
We produce hundreds of millions of tons of plastic every year, most of which cannot be recycled. It’s obvious that we need to use less plastic, move towards environmentally sustainable products and services and come up with technology that recycles plastic more efficiently.
Did You Know?
By 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight.
Humans buy about 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minute in total.
According to The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), South Africans use between 30kg and 50kg of plastic per person per year.
One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated)
So, what is the Solution?
It is great to know the dangers that come with single plastic use. However, we need to find Alternatives
Choose to reuse
opt for cloth bags and metal or glass reusable bottles instead of plastic shopping bags and bottled water.
Bring Your Own Utensils
Say no to excess packaging, straws and other 'disposable' plastics. Instead, carry reusable utensils in your purse, backpack or car to use at BBQs, potlucks or take-out restaurants. It might start of as weird but you will get used to it and it is a great conversation starter!
Reduce your use
Everyday plastics such as sandwich bags, plastic wrap and juice cartons can be easily replaced by a reusable lunch bag or box, reusable wrap and a thermos.
Support plastic bag bans, polystyrene foam bans and bottle recycling bills.
If you must use plastic, Go green. Choose plastics that are most commonly recycled plastics. Avoid plastic bags and polystyrene foam as both are rarely recycled.
Though plastics seem to be convenient and cheap they definitely have detrimental effects on our environment and our long-term health. Take up the challenge and reduce your daily use of single use plastic.