When plastics were first invented, it was revolutionary. Now, plastic waste is one of the most destructive elements on our planet. It is strangling the environment and contributing to lifeforms and species dying off globally.
Let’s dive a little bit into the history of plastics…
After its discovery, the world became obsessed with plastic. It could replace ceramics that would shatter when dropped, or tins that would dent and become bent up. This new discovery in synthetics at the time was nearly indestructible, and that was its major advantage. Hey, it’s super convenient right?
Soon after the first plastics were invented most containers, packaging, products, parts, and more were switched over to plastics because was cheap to produce, easy to make and shape, and almost impervious to liquids. Plastic was everywhere and in everything — the material that you could drop and it would “happily bounce back!”. It even made an appearance on the moon, with Neil Armstrong planting a nylon American flag.
Little do we all know that plastics were mass produced originally by crude oil companies who, after World War 2, needed a viable and easy way to continue making money. That’s when things like Tupperware were created, and Tupperware parties became all the new rage. It was a direct product of oil and various other chemical combinations using phenol and formaldehyde. Marketing paid off, and plastic became the new norm.
All of those advantages can’t hide the MASSIVE disadvantage to plastic besides just the chemicals involved in plastic production. Being nearly indestructible means that it will almost never disappear, at least in our lifetime and generations to follow. If the world continues to produce more and more plastic instead of moving toward eco-friendly and bio-degradable solutions, we’ll be drowning in plastic waste with no way out. We’ll end up as one giant landfill.
It may be a mood-kill, but it should be a wake-up call. Here are some cold-hard facts about how destructive plastic is:
Overlooking the effects of plastic is ignoring the problem.
I have seen the plastic waste problem around the world first-hand. While traveling for the past 6 years, one constant in every country I’ve been to; from Haiti to Thailand, India to Italy, Myanmar to Aruba and 20 more countries — is the presence of plastic waste.
I’m not talking about a bottle here and a wrapper there. The amount of plastic trash in sight and in the environment isn’t just relegated to “third world countries” that you see photos and videos of kids playing in wastelands.
Trust me, I’ve been to those places too. I’ve seen it all. But it’s overflowing in major tourist destinations in “first world countries” that have the proper infrastructure to clean up waste and recycle it. When is the last time you took a walk and didn’t see some type of plastic rubbish somewhere?
Beautiful huh? But in reality…
The problem is, there’s SO MUCH plastic in use that you can barely buy anything that doesn’t contain it. This, paired with the mentality that it’s someone else’s job to pick up the litter on the ground, or that trash is a personal inconvenience and afterthought — leaves our planet covered with plastic waste. No matter where you are.
Let’s do a bit of reminiscing. While I was scuba-diving in Aruba in 2014 I spotted more plastic bottles than I did sea-life. The same when diving off the coast in Italy near Isola di Ponza.
On a hike in the Dandenong Ranges in Australia, I came to a beautiful spot for a rest that looked out into the forest, but the view was tainted by water bottles from hikers who had tossed them into the bushes. One person sees another do it, and does it themselves. Someone else threw the bottle on the ground so I can too right?
On Koh Phi Phi Le in Thailand, which is that breath-taking paradise island you may have seen in the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio, I couldn’t walk more than a minute or two without seeing plastic wrappers or bottles from the snack bar on the island dotting this “paradise“. Another traveler told me that I should still appreciate the beauty around the island either way, but I couldn’t see past the trash.
I couldn’t just ignore it.
When I visited Haiti for the first time in 2012 to film a documentary about a clean energy project in development there, I remember standing on what was once a white sand beach in an area deemed the “Pearl of the Caribbean“, in piles of trash.
We talked to locals about the plastic waste problems in Haiti, and they would respond by telling us they didn’t have anywhere to put the trash so they throw it on the ground. After, we met with the Department of Waste Management in Haiti and told them about what the all of the locals stated. That’s when they took us into the back of the complex and showed us a mountain of 5,000 trashcans.
We put trashcans out for months for free trash pick-ups to clean up our cities, but when we would go to pick them up, they would be empty but trash would be littering the area around it.
The plastic problem isn’t just abroad, because the United States is one of the biggest plastic waste producers in the world. The convenience of plastic has long been an excuse to keep using it. And disposing of it properly is often ignored.
For example, 10.5 million tons of plastic waste is produced in the United States alone, and only 1-2% is recycled. There’s even a massive floating garbage patch off of the coast of California twice the size of Texas made up on mainly plastic waste.
On my return home to Washington DC after that trip to Haiti, I witnessed someone toss plastic trash onto the ground as if it were nothing. And just the other day while car-pooling to work, I saw someone roll down their window and chuck out trash into the woods lining the sidewalk. So it seems that world-wide, knowledge about plastic and of its detrimental effects is lacking. Ignoring the problem is an issue as well, along with the lack of a global movement to stop using it.
I’m guilty of tossing trash to the ground at some point in my life when I was younger, and when sustainability and my carbon footprint didn’t cross my mind on a daily basis. To move forward it has to be not just education and talk, but lifestyle changes toward a zero-waste culture — because plastics are fast destroying our planet and its wildlife.
We have to progress toward being a plastic-free planet, or at least be a driving force behind the change. It’s up to us to make this change.
How can we reduce our plastic waste?
The easiest way to start a movement is to make small steps and build a positive impact habit. Here are 10 easy ways to start transitioning from plastics.
- Use tote bags instead of plastic grocery bags when shopping.
- Use glass jars and ceramics for storage in the house.
- Take lunch to work in eco-tin containers instead of plastic containers.
- Don’t purchase toiletries that contain micro-beads.
- Purchase a water filter instead of buying bottles of water.
- Say no to straws and coffee cup lids.
- Bring your own coffee thermos to the café.
- Recycle properly into separated bins.
- Bring a bag to collect rubbish and plastic when on hikes.
- Participate in local trash clean-ups and also beach clean-ups to prevent plastics from getting into out oceans.
We all have a part to play in repairing the environment and helping transition from plastics and other harmful products that are wreaking havoc on our planet. Let’s start small and together become a larger change.
What are some ideas you have to remove plastic waste from your life?
Sources and statistics cited from: