The Science Behind the Plastic Pollution

Blue plastic bottle

Have you ever thought about how the world would look like if we never invented plastic?

A technological breakthrough back in the day,now polluting the world oceans and killing hundreds of marine animals and birds.

How much plastic is there in the environment?

We cover our food with polyethylene foil, we drink coffee from plastic cups, we wear artificial fibers such as nylon and polyester, and even shop with credit cards made out of the stuff.

Alexander Parkis first discovered it in 1860, but mass production began only in the last few decades. Nowadays, world production exceeds 80 million tons per year.

Plastic bags are made by processing natural gas or oil with the help of chemicals. We use around 18 million barrels of it to make water bottles every year. This is enough to keep a million cars every year driving on the road. You can tear it to pieces, burn it, or throw it away in the trash when you’re done using it, but it won’t decomposable like an apple for example. Since we started using plastic we’ve made 6.5 billion tons of it. Just 10% of it was recycled, another 13% reduced to ashes by incineration. What we have left is 5 billion tons of synthetic garbage. If all of the plastic trash in the world is put on one place, this mountain would be bigger than the highest mountain on Earth — Mount Everest.

“Plastic is a substance the Earth cannot digest and every bit of it that has ever been created still exists.”

Jeff Bridges

What happens to plastic after you use it?

Well, some of it goes into landfills, some into the watercourse and eventually ends up in the sea, which turns out to be the demise of animals who mistake that inedible synthetic for food. Pieces on the ocean surface now outnumber sea life six to one, plastic makes up almost 90% of all trash floating on the ocean surface. ( Around 47,000 pieces per square mile. / That’s 47,000 pieces per 1.609 kilometers. ) Recycling is not actually a sustainable solution. It’s actually called down-cycling, just because it never goes away.

If we remove plastic altogether, we will manage to save hundreds of animals from entanglement and plastic ingestion.

White plastic bottle

How much do we need that anyway?

Even if you don’t use plastic containers to bring your food to work, or pack your groceries in paper bags, you’d still be far off from going absolutely free from plastic. It’s everywhere. Aluminum cans have a resin of it and without it, you’re cola would corrode the can within just two or three days. Paper cups also have a thin layer of it as well. ( How do you think the liquid stays inside of a paper cup? ) If we eliminate all plastic from our lives, we would also give up tea bags, because they are heat-isolated with polyethylene. With the lack of it grocery shopping would take a completely different look. Our liquids would have to come with glass bottles, pretty much like the old Coca-Cola bottles. Our meat and dairy would be covered by paper, and paper bags and cardboard will be your best friend.

Plastic has benefits as well.

For example, it keeps food fresh for a lot longer. Without any basic food preservation, a lot of the food that comes to our table will have to be locally grown, and most of it will be available only seasonally, instead of all year round. We will have to redesign our clothing too. With no polyester, you will have to say goodbye to socks, nylon dresses, some sweaters, and your lovely jacket. Safety wear wouldn’t be possible either due to the polyethylene in them.

Plastic is also present in electrical installations.

Without it, circuits would be far more expensive to build, so the prices for electronics like your smartphone or computer will go up. Even back in the 1910s, we used one of the first plastics in electrical circuits. Without synthetics, we will be stuck in 1870 and we will have to use dangerous and weak insulators like rubber for wires.

On the flip side, at least we wouldn’t be polluting the planet with plastic bags, water bottles, beer six-pack rings, coffee cups, and other synthetic materials of that sort. Also as an added bonus plastic debris wouldn’t have affected around 700 marine species. If plastic is not something that plays a crucial role in your daily life, you can consider moving to a country like Bangladesh or Kenya, where it’s against the law to use bags out of the stuff.

You might also consider getting some slimy pets. The only creature is known so far that can eat plastic is the wax worm. For a normal bag, you will need around six thousand of them to make it go away for 1 hour.

Plastic bag

What effect does plastic have on human health?

Chemicals like BPA ( Bisphenol A ) are absorbed by the body. Studies show that they alter hormones, disrupt the endocrine system, and are linked to diabetes and a few other diseases because they interfere with the production, transport, secretion, function, and elimination of natural body hormones. By refusing disposable plastic, you can improve the health of the ocean and the environment around us, including human and animal health.


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The post above was made from the following materials:
Economist | The known unknowns of plastic pollution
Quora | If plastics had never been invented
The world counts | Interesting facts about plastic bags
Huffington Post | Living in a plastic world
Hydration anywhere | Tiny plastic eating caterpillars

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