Ms.Urooj Fatima, Green Blogger, Environmental Science, GCWUS
Plastic pollution is a global issue that is causing damage. Plastic is a substance the earth cannot digest.
“Plastic” is actually a shortened form of “thermoplastic,” a term that describes polymeric materials that can be shaped and reshaped using heat. China contributes the highest share of mismanaged plastic waste with around 28 percent of the global total, followed by 10 percent in Indonesia, 6 percent for both the Philippines and Vietnam. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world and that number will top half a Trillion by 2021. Less than half of those bottles end up getting recycled. 8 million metric tons of plastic winds up in our oceans each year. According to 2014 WHO data, Pakistan ranked first in the list of countries with the most polluted urban areas (cities).
More than 5 million people die in Pakistan each year due to waste related diseases. Plastic waste is one of many types of wastes that take too long to decompose. Normally, plastic items can take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. But plastic bags we use in our everyday life take 10-1000 years to decompose, while plastic bottles can take 450 years or more. The first plastic based on a synthetic polymer was made from phenol and formaldehyde, with the first viable and cheap synthesis methods invented in 1907, by Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian-born American living in New York state.
Plastic debris in the oceans was first observed in the 1960s, a decade in which Americans became increasingly aware of environmental problems. Plastic is harmful because it is 'Non-Biodegradable'. When thrown on land it makes the soil less fertile. When thrown in water it chokes our ponds, rivers and oceans and harms the sea life because the bacteria in their stomach cannot break the plastic up into smaller pieces. The biggest problem with plastic bags is that they do not readily break down in the environment, with estimates for the time it takes them to decompose ranging from 20 to 1000 years.
Plastic bags also clog drains and waterways, threatening not only natural environments but also urban ones. Trash Travels estimates that plastic bags can take 20 years to decompose, plastic bottles up to 450 years, and fishing line, 600 years; but in fact, no one really knows how long plastics will remain in the ocean. With exposure to UV rays and the ocean environment, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments. Only a few types of plastic are recyclable. Plastic that is recyclable can usually be recycled only once. Plastic bags consumed by animals, birds and marine life accumulate in their gut causing disease leading to their slow and painful death. Humans consuming the meat or milk of an animal who have ingested plastic, are also affected by various diseases including cancer. Approximately 85% of the plastic in our environment is microplastic.Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are formed when bigger pieces of plastic break down into smaller bits.
Sources of microplastic
They can break off from certain synthetic clothes when we wash them. For example Fleece. Microplastic is also present as microbeads in everyday use household items like some toothpastes, face washes, scrubs and shampoos.
Microplastic ingested by fish and other animals enter in our food chain. It has been scientifically proven that microplastic contaminates our food, wood and drinking water. Researchers have found microplastic in bottled water, salts, beer and recently in honey. Styrofoam contain highly toxic chemicals which can leach into food and drinks and adversely affect our nervous system, lungs and reproductive organs
What can we do?
Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants, or use reusable stainless steel or glass straw. Use a reusable produce bag, purchase or make your own reusable produce bags. Give up gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, aka plastic. Buy boxes instead of bottles. Often, products like laundry detergent come in cardboard which is more easily recycled than plastic. Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container. You can save money by avoiding unnecessary packaging. Reuse containers for storing leftovers or shopping in bulk. Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages. Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use Styrofoam. Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invest in a refillable metal lighter. Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic. The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby's carbon footprint and save money. Make fresh squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It's healthier and better for the environment. Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles of cleaner. Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags. Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.
Urooj Fatima
Dept. of Environmental Science, GCWUS
The Earth Needs Love