Plastic Pollution

The amount of plastic manufactured in the first ten years of this century eclipses the total produced in the entire last century.

There are 500 times more pieces of microplastic in the sea than there are stars in our galaxy and by 2050 it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish

Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic products in the environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, or humans. Plastics that act as pollutants are categorized into micro-, meso-, or macro debris, based on size. Plastics are inexpensive and durable, and as a result levels of plastic production by humans are high. However, the chemical structure of most plastics renders them resistant to many natural processes of degradation and as a result they are slow to degrade. Together, these two factors have led to a high prominence of plastic pollution in the environment.

Plastic pollution can afflict land, waterways and oceans. Living organisms, particularly marine animals, can be harmed either by mechanical effects, such as entanglement in plastic objects or problems related to ingestion of plastic waste, or through exposure to chemicals within plastics that interfere with their physiology. Humans are also affected by plastic pollution, such as through disruption of various hormonal mechanisms.

In the UK alone, more than 5 million tonnes of plastic are consumed each year, of which only an estimated 24% is recycled[citation needed]. The remaining 3.8 million tonnes of waste is disposed of in landfills. This large amount of plastic waste inevitably enters the environment, with studies suggesting that the bodies of 90% of sea birds contain plastic debris. In some areas there have been significant efforts to reduce the prominence of plastic pollution, through reducing plastic consumption and promoting plastic recycling. Since the 1950s, an estimated 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced, of which an estimated 9% has been recycled and another 12% of plastic waste has been incinerated.

The environmental toll of plastics

From cell phones and computers to bicycle helmets and hospital IV bags, plastic has molded society in many ways that make life both easier and safer. But the synthetic material also has left harmful imprints on the environment and perhaps human health, according to a new compilation of articles authored by scientists from around the world.

Since its mass production began in the 1940s, plastic’s wide range of unique properties has propelled it to an essential status in society. Next year, more than 300 million tons will be produced worldwide.

“Plastics are very long-lived products that could potentially have service over decades, and yet our main use of these lightweight, inexpensive materials are as single-use items that will go to the garbage dump within a year, where they’ll persist for centuries,”

Evidence is mounting that the chemical building blocks that make plastics so versatile are the same components that might harm people and the environment. And its production and disposal contribute to an array of environmental problems, too. For example:

– Chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by human bodies. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
– Plastic debris, laced with chemicals and often ingested by marine animals, can injure or poison wildlife.
– Floating plastic waste, which can survive for thousands of years in water, serves as mini transportation devices for invasive species, disrupting habitats.
– Plastic buried deep in landfills can leach harmful chemicals that spread into groundwater.
– Around 4 percent of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics, and a similar amount is consumed as energy in the process.

People are exposed to chemicals from plastic multiple times per day through the air, dust, water, food and use of consumer products.

For example, phthalates are used as plasticizers in the manufacture of vinyl flooring and wall coverings, food packaging and medical devices. Eight out of every ten babies, and nearly all adults, have measurable levels of phthalates in their bodies.

In addition, bisphenol A (BPA), found in polycarbonate bottles and the linings of food and beverage cans, can leach into food and drinks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 93 percent of people had detectable levels of BPA in their urine.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, which are flame-retardants added to polyurethane foam furniture cushions, mattresses, carpet pads and automobile seats, also are widespread.

How plastic is damaging planet Earth

There are 500 times more pieces of microplastic in the sea than there are stars in our galaxy and by 2050 it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish

Cheap, capable of being made into any conceivable shape, strong and durable, plastic is something of a wonder material. It has proved so useful to humans that since the 1950s we have produced an estimated 8.3 billion metric tonnes of the stuff.

However, the victim of this success appears to be much of life on Earth. And humans, one day, could find themselves among them.

For some 79 per cent of the plastic produced over the last 70 years has been thrown away, either into landfill sites or into the general environment. Just nine per cent is recycled with the rest incinerated.

This has been described as “an uncontrolled experiment on a global scale” by scientists.

How much plastic is in the sea?

With more than eight million tonnes going into the oceans every year, it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish by 2050 and 99 per cent of all the seabirds on the planet will have consumed some. It is thought the sea now contains some 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy.

It is found all over the planet, with 300 billion pieces in the once-pristine Arctic and a remote island in the Pacific, the uninhabited Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairns, believed to have the highest concentration of plastic pollution in the world.

Is Plastic Dangerous?

Some plastic is toxic and it can disrupt hormones crucial for a healthy existence. Even when it is not dangerous itself – or not known to be – plastic acts like a magnet for a range of other poisons and pollutants we have spilled into the natural world.

To sea turtles, plastic bags in the water can look like jellyfish, floating on the surface plastic can appear to be a tasty snack for a seagull, based on millennia of experience, and to baby perch it appears more appetising than the plankton they are supposed to eat.

Unsurprisingly, gulping down all this indigestible poison instead of food is bad for their health. So far, it is known that marine litter harms more than 600 species amid what some regard as the beginning of the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth.

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