Giovanna Trabasso  /   10/13/2021

Plastic Pollution: Where We Stand And How To End It

We’re often preoccupied with landfills and the trash we see in our own homes. However, our wasteful impacts go far beyond what meets the eye daily. Our consumption and improper disposal of plastic have led to continent-sized plastic islands in our oceans. Asian and African nations suffer particularly worse from plastic pollution due to improper collection, being inefficient, or even nonexistent. We live in the Plastic Age, our plastic waste being left behind to be precisely accurate to track. But how did we get here? How did plastic pollution get so out of our control?

It was plastic’s convenience that has brought us to such a critical situation. Life as we know it today would not be possible without it. Plastic made from fossil fuels is rather recent, existing for a little over a century. It was this same plastic that brought life-saving alternatives to war and medicine, really taking off after World War II. Single-use plastic is detrimental to our everyday lives, but not as much as we’ve come accustomed to. Throw-away culture has now become inevitable with the vast use of single-use plastics. It currently accounts for 40% of plastic produced every year

More trash than fish

Each year, about 17.6 billion pounds of plastic are thrown into our oceans every year. If carrying on at this rate, by 2050 the ocean will be more plastic than fish. This volume of trash represents 1.8 trillion pieces currently in the sea. It has now combined into five garbage islands representing twice the area size of Texas. However, not all of it floats on the surface. 70% of the trash in the ocean sinks to the bottom, making it hidden to the eye. Plastic poses an extra danger. The sun breaks plastic into tiny pieces. Microplastics can take around 400 years to degrade. During this process, chemicals are released contaminating the ocean.

It’s easy to reduce the amount of single-use straws, cups, plastic containers that we often see pictured choking sea animals. But, it’s harder to account for the chemicals that go unseen. While the numbers of existing waste may seem disheartening, we can stay make a change.

By the numbers

The National Geographic provides some important facts, by the numbers:

    • Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
    • Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
    • Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.

While managing the current damage that we have already done seems nearly impossible, we can minimize future waste. By taking into account the amount of plastic made and disposed of every year, we can significantly reduce our future contributions to current pollution rates. Through improved waste management and alternatives to single-use plastic, we can move closer to cleaner oceans. The only solution to our current plastic pollution problem is to not aggravate it.

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