Lately, there has been an ongoing conversation about plastic, how our straws end up in our oceans, and all the reasons why we should eliminate single-use plastics.
But what is really going on? Why are plastics actually harmful? Is it as bad as say?
The plastic problem has three main angles to it: Marine Environment, Fracking, and Climate Change. In order to fully convey the urgency of the matter, let’s talk in numbers.
Elaborating on how plastic waste affects Marine Environment, there are 8 million metric tons of plastic that end up in the oceans every year, aside from the estimated 150 million metric tons already circulating. It’s predicted that in less than 10 years, it will reach 250 million metric tons of plastic waste. All of this waste affects our approximately 700 marine species, with findings of plastic within over 90% of sea birds and in the stomachs of more than half of sea turtles. Plastics end up being covered by marine algae that releases sulfur compound, which later are detected by these animals as food. Plastics have the ability to survive marine extreme conditions to the extent that they can choke whales. Additionally, plastic waste in oceans doesn’t only affect marine life but humans too, as humans end up digesting plastic matter as well.
By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Moving to the second issue of plastic waste, it’s necessary to understand that the manufacturing of plastic is a risk because of fracking. Fracking is the process of drilling and injecting water, sand, and chemicals into buried rocks to force open existing cracks and extract oil or gas. The oils and gas are needed to produce plastic. However, fracking contributes to increasing the potential of oil spilling – which harms the soil, air, and water – and it can even cause earthquakes due to the high pressure used. Another downfall of the manufacturing process is its huge impact on climate change. They produce greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of the plastic’s life cycle, equivalent to as many as 615 coal-fired power plants operating at full capacity.
Finally, around 12 billion plastic bags are consumed in Egypt alone each year. Around 50% of the plastic waste ends up being burnt which consequently emits huge amounts of CO2 that again, contributing to Climate Change.
Another issue with plastic is its breaking down process. Most plastic isn’t biodegradable, meaning it doesn’t break down to its original chemical, but it ends up breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces that even micro beings can digest. It can take plastic over 400 years to properly degrade. There’s a current trend to use plant-based plastics made from potatoes and corn, because the process of degradation happens faster. However, these plant-based plastics are just as harmful, since they don’t fully degrade as well.
Hope is not lost! Scientists are working on more efficient ways to break down plastic as they’ve currently accidently discovered the “Mutant Enzyme” which can recycle plastic to be functional for reusing. Many organizations are also taking steps to change their internal operations in order to be more sustainable and limit waste, as well as, create products and initiatives to help the crisis. In addition, governments are starting to reform their environmental policies and enforce bans on single-used plastics, which is 50% of our plastic consumption.
Stay tuned to next month’s newsletter on how you, as an individual, can help in reducing plastic and limit waste!
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