Plastics are now used in practically everything we do, from grocery bags and utensils to sandwich wrap and water bottles. However, due to human beings’ insatiable desire for convenience, we are now squandering significant resources and polluting the environment at an alarming rate.
Plastic waste overconsumption is a severe problem polluting landfills, clogging waterways, and endangering marine ecosystems. This has a harmful influence on industries vital to many countries’ economies, such as fisheries, shipping, and tourism.
Plastic pollution has become one of the most serious environmental concerns, as the growing production of disposable plastic goods outpaces the world’s capacity to deal with them. Plastic pollution is most evident in countries with non-existent or inefficient garbage collection. However, developed nations like the United States struggle to recycle plastics properly, despite having excellent trash collection systems.
What Went Wrong?
Plastics created from fossil fuels are barely a century old. After World War II, the development and production of thousands of new plastic materials accelerated, so our current age would be unrecognizable if we were to switch to using only natural materials suddenly.
Plastics transformed medicine with life-saving devices, allowed for space travel, lightened aircraft, and cars – all while saving fuel and polluting – and saved lives with incubators, helmets, and tools for clean drinking water.
On the other hand, the advantages of plastics led to a throw-away culture that exposes the material’s negative aspects: today, single-use plastics make up 40 percent of all plastic produced every year. Many of these items, such as food wrappers and plastic bags, have a brief to intermediate lifespan but can endure for hundreds of years in the environment.
What is the Global Route of Plastic Pollution?
The majority of ocean debris comes from land. Trash is also carried to the sea by major rivers, which function as conveyor belts, picking up more and more trash as they flow downstream. Much of the plastic trash that washes ashore at sea remains there. However, it may be carried across the world when caught in ocean currents.
Plastic debris from China, Japan, Russia, South America, Europe, and the United States was discovered on Henderson Island in the Pitcairn Group, an uninhabited island midway between New Zealand and Chile. The South Pacific Gyre is a circular ocean current that carries them there.
Plastic waste is broken down by sunlight, wind, and wave action at sea, resulting in particles typically less than one-fifth of an inch across. These tiny plastics, often known as microplastics, have been discovered in every nook and cranny of the world’s seas and oceans, from Mariana Trench, the deepest trough, to Mount Everest, the highest peak.
Microplastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces as they degrade. Plastic microfibers have been discovered in public water systems and circulating through the air.
Danger to Wildlife
Every year, millions of animals are killed by plastic, from fish to birds to other marine lifeforms. Plastics have negatively affected nearly 700 species of animal, including endangered ones. Seabirds consume plastics in their diet. The majority of animal deaths are due to starvation or entanglement. Abandoned fishing lines strangle turtles, whales, seals, and other animals.
More than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and mussels intended for our dinner plates, have been found to contain microplastics. These tiny fragments go through the digestive system without being digested or causing any issues in many situations. Plastics have been discovered to obstruct digestive tracts, puncture organs, and kill animals. The desire to eat is reduced in stomachs full of plastics, causing starvation. In some cases, land-based animals, including cattle, camels, tigers, zebras, hyenas, elephants, and other large creatures like these, have eaten plastics and died as a result.
Tests have shown that a variety of contaminants, including pesticides and pharmaceuticals, can cause significant damage to the liver and other organs, as well as reproductive systems. This has prompted certain species, such as oysters, to produce fewer eggs. New science shows that larval fish consume nanofibers in the first days of life, opening new concerns about the consequences of plastic pollution on fish populations.
Despite growing awareness about plastic waste, it’s critical to continue building on this momentum to protect our planet’s future.