Plastic Not So Fantastic


Plastics were developed in the early 20th century and were environmentally important, replacing ivory, tortoiseshell, horn and other plant and animal products. By the 1960's plastic had gone from being used in durable items to widespread use including disposable plastic packaging.

Every piece of plastic ever produced still remains somewhere in the earth today. In the last half of the 20th century over 1 billion tonnes of plastic was produced. This figure has already doubled in the first ten years of this century (Scientific American).

Single-Use convenience
"Think about it, why would you make something that you're going to use for a few minutes out of a material that's basically going to last forever, and you're just going to throw it away. What's up with that?" - Jeb Berrier (Bag It movie).

Most of the commonly used disposable plastic items are a convenience and the numbers are staggering. In one week we go through 10 billion plastic bags worldwide, in the USA an average of 2.5 million plastic bottles are used every hour whilst over 500 million straws are used daily!

Recycling is important but it will never be the solution to rapidly expanding consumption. Plastic Free July focuses on refusing, reducing and reusing. Although many plastic products can be recycled, actual rates of recycling are often low – particularly away from home at events, food halls and public places. In many countries plastic is destined for recycling in third world countries with substandard conditions for some of the world’s poorest people (Story of Stuff).

Health Impacts
Increasingly people are becoming concerned about the impacts on food and beverages being stored and cooked in plastic. Common additives to plastic include BPA (bisphenol A) and phthalates, both chemicals which have can harmful effects on humans. In 2013 the UN and the World Health organisation reported that evidence linking hormone-mimicking chemicals to human health problems has grown stronger over the past decade, becoming a "global threat" that should be addressed.

Litter & the Marine Environment
Marine debris is a major issue for the integrity of marine ecosystems. Impacts to wildlife include entanglement and ingestion. It is estimated that 80% of the oceans marine debris has come from the land. More than 270 of the world's marine animal species are affected by marine debris, but the full extent of this impact is unknown.

Of the top 10 items found in ocean debris five are associated with beverages (Ocean Conservancy). Images of plastics in the marine environment are haunting (5 Gyres) and we can all become involved in the solution. By using your own drink bottle, takeaway cup and reusable straw (or refusing one) we can together reduce plastic consumption.

Our CSIRO national coastal debris survey estimates that there are about 115,513, 626 bits of rubbish on Australia’s coastline. This averages about 5.2 pieces for every person in the country! 74% of all waste we find is plastic.

Article provided courtesy of Plastic Free July.

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