Plastic is pervasive in American life. It’s literally just everywhere. It’s a convenience that no one thought much of at the time, and now we’re all just used to seeing it. But what you don’t see is the actual island of trash in the Pacific Ocean. You don’t see the dead whales, dolphins, turtles, and birds (and all the other marine life affected).
The truth is, our convenience is has a huge cost that we don’t see in our everyday lives … but you can sure bet you’re going to see it soon enough.
Why is plastic bad for the environment?
Traditional plastic is made using fossil fuels.
Traditional plastics are made by breaking down fossil fuels such as natural gas, petroleum, or coal and then chemically rebonding the resulting monomers.
Um, what? Yeah, I know, lots of jargon. Let’s just say they’re called petrochemicals and leave it at that. You can check out the American Chemistry Council if you want to learn more about how plastics are made.
The long and the short of it is that plastic use precious fossil fuels in their production. And they use a lot of them. Today, about 14% of oil is used to make plastic. And that number is predicted to continue rising.
Think about that next time you hit the pump and cringe at the prices.
Plastic causes air pollution.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming. A more technical way to put it is “carbon emissions.” Carbon emissions are released during the production of plastic, sure, but more concerning is the amount of plastic that gets incinerated.
According to WIRED carbon emissions linked to plastic are currently equal to around 900 million tons of carbon dioxide. Oh, and they expect it to reach 1.3 billion in the next decade … that’s a lot in case you were wondering.
Plastic doesn’t get recycled.
Everyone tells me it’s ok because they recycle. But the fact is, only about 12% of plastic gets recycled. Much of it isn’t even recyclable. And some of it gets to the recycling plant only to be turned away due to contamination.
Just because you put something in your recycle bin, doesn’t mean it’s actually getting processed for recycling.
Think about all the food packaging you throw away. Lids and straws, bags from chips or other snacks, fast food containers that are styrofoam, or even paper that’s coated in plastic to keep it from getting soggy. Yep. all of that is plastic.
I wrote a blog listing the Top 5 Causes of Plastic Pollution if you want to see what’s really going into our landfills and oceans.
Plastic winds up in the ocean.
Don’t even try to pretend it doesn’t. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there! I know we all have the best intentions, but even the plastic bottles you place in a recycling bin often make their way to the final destination of all the world’s trash and chemicals: the ocean.
Much of what winds up in the ocean was actually disposed of properly. But lightweight plastics are picked up by the wind, out of the landfill, or even the garbage truck or the trash bin itself, and carried to the waterways and, ultimately, the ocean.
One study valued the cost of plastic impacts to the ocean at $13 billion every year. (And $75 billion to the US nationally!)
Not into reading studies? Learn more about the giant islands of trash in my blog about Plastic Pollution in the Ocean. To sum it up, about 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered in trash, much of which is plastic. It’s a shocking truth that many people avoid. Out of sight out of mind, right?
Plastic is poisoning our food chain.
With all that plastic in the ocean, there must be some effect on marine life, right? Of course! We’ve all seen the images of turtles with straws in their nose. Or a seagull’s stomach contents containing things like Bic lighters.
Marine life dies all the time from plastic and other pollution in the ocean. Last year, I read that a whale washed up somewhere and it was suffocating on the plastic bags it had swallowed. They don’t have opposable thumbs, and I’m guessing no one gave them a heads up to watch out for it, so they are pretty much out of luck when we send millions of plastic bags their way. It’s truly saddening to think about and disturbing to see.
But if that doesn’t convince you that plastic is bad for the environment, this will. That cod you’re thinking about having for dinner? It probably contains chemicals from plastic. Like that BPA thing we all try to avoid, or maybe some anti-freeze from a discarded container. Yum.
The fact is that plastic breaks down into micro-particles that small fish mistake for food. They eat it then get eaten by larger fish until the chemicals they consume wind up in the salmon, or cod, or tuna you’re about to eat for lunch. I explain this in my other blog about ocean pollution too, if you’re interested.
So the next time someone asks you what’s so terrible about plastic … tell them all these things. There are even more reasons too, but let’s start with these 5.
What can we do about it?
As we see more and more evidence of the damage plastic does, we look for alternatives. And slowly, very slowly, we demand that manufacturers use more responsible options. But we are the key. Everyday consumers, like you and me, hold the power for change in our bank accounts and credit cards.
Use the power of consumerism to tell corporations and governments that it is time for a change. Buy reusable water bottles (check out Best Alternatives to Plastic Water Bottles if you’re not sure what to get).
If you’re looking for a more philanthropic way to join the fight, you can always donate to an ocean cleanup charity organization or other environmental charities. One I love is called 4Ocean, read more about 4Ocean here.
Most importantly, don’t ever doubt your power to make a difference. Your decisions are what drive change. Each and every decision you make impacts the world, for better or worse.
Every purchase you make has the power to tell big companies that you’re done with plastic, and they should be too.
Shop Earth Hero and Save 10%
Earth Hero has everything you need to start your journey to a sustainable life.
Save 10% on regular priced items with discount code ONESTEPGREENER
Author, Owner, Superhero
I'm an aspiring superhero — trying to save the world, one little step at a time. But I also live in an apartment and on a budget, so I understand that not everyone can buy an electric car and grow all their own food.
I’m not here to judge you or shame you for what you don’t do. I’m just here to show you what you can do. To share the possibilities of a greener tomorrow!