It might come as a surprise, but plastic has only been around since the late 19th century. In 1869, John Wesley Hyatt produced the first synthetic polymer (1). He discovered that plastic could be manipulated into various shapes and had the ability to act as a natural substance. The invention was seen as profound because it marked the first instance where humans were not limited by the amount of natural resources (2).
Plastic soon became the forefront in every industry. From paint colors to containers to plumbing pipes, plastic wove its way into everyday life. Plastic is light, inexpensive, and very sturdy (3). Companies are able to synthetically produce plastic at a much lower price than if they were to extract natural resources. It was an alternative that created a new era of jobs and products.
As of now, you may think there is nothing wrong with plastic. However, that is not the case. Plastic is detrimental to the environment and our health. Since the 1950s, we have produced 9.2 billion tons of plastic, in which more than 6.9 billion tons have been put to waste. The plastic waste is then transferred to landfills where it is estimated that it takes between 450 and 1000 years to completely decompose (4). While the plastic is degrading, polluting and filtrating into our oceans. According to a study conducted by UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, it is estimated that every year between 4.8 million metric tons and 12.7 million tons of plastic waste ends up in oceans (5). The waste is known to have made over 267 animal species suffer from entanglement and ingestion of plastic waste. In addition, plastic waste kills approximately 100,000 marine animals each year (6). Not only does plastic harm marine life, it harms humans too. The plastic debris in the ocean leads to groundwater pollution in which humans are affected. The landfills contribute to land pollution because the plastic interacts with water and creates harmful chemicals that seep into the ground, degrading the water quality. Lastly, the burning of plastic contributes to air pollution due to the released hazardous chemicals. When humans inhale this polluted air, it can cause health and respiratory problems (7).
It is crucial that we implement practices to reduce plastic waste. Firstly, this means educating others. It is our job as people of the Earth to inform others on how their actions regarding their plastic usage can greatly affect standards of living. Secondly, we must reduce our usage of plastic starting with water bottles. It is estimated that there are 1500 plastic bottles ending up in waste landfills every second (8). Lastly, it is important that we are recycling everything that we possibly can. Although plastic does not break down easily, if we recycle, the plastic product we were using would be made into something brand new with a completely different purpose (7).
Just think about this the next time you pick up a plastic bottle: Is it really worth it?
- A substance made up of large number of molecules strung together, a term often used to describe plastics