Plastic pollution and the damaging effects on our environment

Many people believe just using the recycling bin at home is a good enough solution to the plastic issues we face today. I can assure you that this is not the case. Some of us don’t know what can be recycled and what cant and many of us are putting things into landfill which could be recycled and vice versa. Up to half the plastic we buy is used once and then binned.

We’re using more plastic than ever, it’s durable, low cost and versatile but the negative impact this is having is detrimental to all of us and our future generations.

Hopefully by you reading some of these facts, more consideration will be taken when purchasing and disposing of plastic.

The beginning of plastic

Plastic was invented in 1907 by Leo Hendrik and since then has been used to produce items such as toothbrushes, sticky tape, packaging, textiles and even in the building and construction industry.

Since the 1950s, around 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced worldwide. Of which only around 9% has been recycled, 12% has been burnt and the remaining 79% if not still within use, has ended up in either landfill or the natural environment.

In 2015 there was 322 million tonnes of plastic produced, this is the same weight as 6,000 average homes, equivalent to 805,000 plastic bottles. Shockingly, virtually every piece of plastic that has ever been produced still exists in some shape or form. This is due to the length of time it takes to degrade. Did you know it takes plastic bottles between 450 – 1000 years to degrade?

Plastic Bottles

One million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute and on average, 150 bottles are littering each mile of UK beaches. Up to 90% of bottles aren’t disposed of in the correct way, therefore end up in landfill or our waterways. Bottles which are made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) will NEVER biodegrade. But still, after so much negative publicity so many of us are still buying them.

Plastic Bags

In the world 12,000 plastic bags are still being used every second. On average a plastic bag is used for only 12 minutes but takes up to a thousand years to decompose. Since the 5p charge came in in 2015, the UK has managed to reduce their plastic bag usage by 85%, down from 140 to 25 bags for the average person per year but this totals 1,651,000,000 still being used in the UK alone.

The UK does not have the right infrastructure to recycle all the plastic wastage and since 2012, Britain has sent 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste to countries such as China, Turkey and Malaysia to recycle. With container ships being accountable for 3% of the total global carbon emissions, isn’t about time the UK government thought of ways to recycle without adding to our carbon footprint?

What you can’t see won’t hurt

The definition of micro plastics is literally a small piece of plastic, less than 5mm in length. Not only are they caused by plastic bottles and bags, but they are found in synthetic clothing and cosmetics. Every time we put a load of washing on which includes fabrics such as polyester and nylon, millions of plastic microfibres are being washed into our water systems, and once they’re in the ocean they are finding their way up the food chain. 

Microplastics have been found lodged in the digestive tracts and tissues of various sea animals. Fish and birds have been known to ingest microplastics floating on the water surface, mistaking the plastic pieces for food. The ingestion of microplastics is causing aquatic species to consume less food and it can result in neurological and reproductive toxicity.

Even the average person will eat 70,000 microplastics each year and can even be found in tap water. We urgently need to find an alternative to plastic to prevent further damage to our marine life, as well as ourselves.

Marine life

Microplastics, abandoned fishing gear and other plastic pollution are among our biggest environmental threats. Plastic is killing up to 100,000 marine mammals each year, from strangulation or suffocation due to plastic bags that have ended up in the ocean, or the micro plastics that they are feeding on. Parents are feeding these microplastics to their young too. According to World Animal Protection, 80% of microplastic found in our oceans are from land-based sources like plastic bags and bottles. Recent studies have revealed that plastic pollution is in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabirds. There is even evidence that plastics are contributing towards the increasing number of species becoming extinct. Something drastic needs to be done to prevent more animal species dying out. 

Fishing equipment

Although fishing is seen to be a requirement for many people’s lives for income or for a food source, the fishing industry is helping to contribute to pollute the oceans in several ways. Most types of nets are made from plastic and when these nets are submerged under water, they are leaking toxins into our oceans. Rather than reusing these nets they are often disposed of within the sea, leading to marine life suffering due to entanglement or strangulation. There are roughly 640,000 tonnes of nets in the ocean, which accounts for about 10% of the total plastics within our waters.

Plastic costs

It is thought that the amount of energy which goes into manufacturing bottled water is the same amount of energy that could power nearly 190,000 homes all year round.

There was an article in a well-known newspaper a few months ago which said it is more expensive to pick up a plastic bottle than to buy one. To clean areas of our land and beaches costs England £1 billion each year. I for one, would much rather see this money being spent on hospitals, schools or social care. £1 billion would be enough to pay for an extra 33,000 nurses. 

Isn’t it time that governments and big brands acted before the damage we cause is irreversible? Isn’t it time that plastic bottles and bags are banned? Isn’t it time that we all start doing our bit for our planet?


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