Top 5 Causes of Plastic Pollution
It’s hard to imagine a world without plastic products. Modern society won’t be the same if plastic wasn’t discovered by Leo Baekeland in 1907. However, because of how it’s commonly used in almost everywhere it has also been one of the largest contributors to global pollution.
Every year more than 300 tons of plastic are produced for different uses from almost every industry from the food sector to manufacturing. Demand for plastic has drastically increased since half a century ago and the current production is expected to quadruple by 2050.
Unfortunately, because of littering and improper waste disposal plastic has aided in many catastrophic events. Of the total manufactured plastic products each year, only 5% are recycled and 40% ends up on landfills. The remaining 55% is considered rubbish and pollutes our environment, especially our oceans.
Today, birds and marine animals die of ingesting, strangling and suffocating from plastic. Cities with poor garbage disposal also become prone to excessive flooding because plastic also clogs drainage systems and canals.
The Main Causes of Plastic Pollution
So, what causes plastic pollution that allowed this to turn into a global crisis? Below are some of the main causes of this catastrophe.
Rising Human Population and Dependence on Plastic
In 2011, the world population reached the 7 billion mark, and today it is estimated that there are roughly 7.5 billion humans on the planet, based on the data by the World Population Review. With the rise of the human population, you can also expect the demand for plastic to increase and in turn the rubbish that they can accommodate within their lifetime.
The average American person produces almost 35 kilos of plastic bottles and other similar products as trash. While this figure may be higher or lower in other countries, it gives us an idea of how dependent people are on plastic products. It also reflects our inability or unwillingness to recycle or reuse these single-use plastic products.
People who are in the move are also more likely to throw away the plastic on the streets and just about everywhere. A study by Keep America Beautiful revealed that 52% of people who litter are motorists and another 23% are pedestrians.
The Food Industry which Packs Everything on Plastic
About a third of the plastic that pollutes our land and oceans are from food wrappers. This can be everything from your gum wrapper to the bag of your favourite potato chips. We usually take packed foods almost anywhere even to the summit of a mountain or on the coastal beaches. As such, this type of plastic garbage can end up even in the unlikeliest of places and not just in highly urbanized areas.
Packaging companies have used plastic to wrap and preserve food because it is much cheaper to produce than any other alternative such as paper. Plastics also resist water and moisture which is essential in making sure that the food inside won’t get spoiled.
However, when plastic is ingested by animals and birds they don’t break down and excreted, unlike other organic materials. The toxic chemicals from the plastic can also poison the animal or block their digestive system which eventually leads to their death. While there are alternatives such as using reusable bags made of paper and other biodegradable materials, very few food companies are willing to compromise with this solution.
Plastic Bottles and Container Caps
Your favourite on-the-go drink is another cause of plastic pollution. If you visit your nearest convenience store you can see tons of beverages and drinks that are contained in plastic bottles. This can be anywhere between bottled water, energy drinks, coffee, and carbonated drinks.
The main problem with plastic bottles is that we consume a lot of them. Today, we are using roughly 500 billion bottled waters a year. Given that more than half of our rubbish ends up as pollutants, you can easily imagine its impact on the environment. Plastic bottles are also seen as food by many birds especially those species that fish on the sea, such as the Pacific Albatros.
Container caps are also another item that is commonly found inside the bellies of birds and animals who died of plastic ingestion. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to reduce our dependence on plastic bottles such as carrying a personal water bottle that can be refilled.
Plastic Bags and Carriers
Imagine a product that you have to use in less than a minute and then you won’t have to use it again. This is basically what plastic bags are. You put your groceries in them and once you hit home it immediately ends up in the trash can. The real evil of plastic bags, however, is that they can easily be transported by animals, natural causes and just by the wind. They also tangle almost into anything from trees, waterways, and even on living creatures.
Almost every establishment also use plastic bags to let customers carry the product they just purchased. While highly reusable, most plastic bags are designed for single use. Every time you hit the convenience store, for example, you get to have one of these bags, but the next time you went again to the store only a handful of people will reuse the same plastic bag.
The good news is that many cities have restricted the use of plastic bags. People are now encouraged to use reusable eco bags that are made of disposable fabric or any other organic materials. Some businesses even offer discounts and other incentives for customers who shop using their eco-bags.
Plastic Straws and Stirrers
Another small plastic item that has a huge impact on the environment are straws and stirrers. Much like bottle caps and tiny plastic wrappers, these items can easily be digested by marine animals and birds. They are also items which can easily be replaced, if not banned permanently. You can still drink your favourite milk tea or beverage directly from the cup or glass, couldn’t you?
The real danger of plastic straws is there is little to zero chance that they can be recycled because of its structure. In the US, roughly 500 straws and stirrers are used every day. A huge percentage of these plastic products may well end up on the nose of sea turtles or in the bellies of fish.
Many companies have also thought of several ideas to replace plastic straws. Some use straws made out of bamboo or stainless metal which can also be re-used. Paper straws and stirrers are also used by other food companies because of their biodegradable properties.
If we want to reduce the plastic pollution on our planet the solution is simple- reduce, reuse and recycle. Knowing what the top contributors of plastic pollution are we can reduce the plastic products we use and replace them with other environment-friendly alternatives.