Updated: Oct 15, 2018
It seems to be a common theme in history that the things that lead to great progress and convenience also come with a big price. This seems to be very much true with plastic products and packaging.
There is no denying that inexpensive plastics have made many aspects of food and water distribution much easier, but emerging research and data from decades of increasing use of plastics suggest that we need to seriously re-evaluate our plastic usage.
Our health and the health of our planet would be much better off if we drastically reduced our use of plastic. Here’s why:
Health Problems with Plastic
Certain chemicals in plastics, like Bisphenol-A (BPA), have gotten media exposure for their potential health problems but there’s much more to the problem that a few isolated chemicals. Phthalates are also found in many plastics and in high levels in indoor air. The European Union banned them in 2005 and many other countries have banned them as well. Phthalates are considered to be especially harmful to men and boys, especially those exposed in utero. They are linked to immune system impairment, reduced testosterone, infertility in men and many other problems.
The chemicals in plastics are known endocrine disruptors, and this common thread may explain why we are seeing these problems in many species of animals around the world.
Plastics and the Planet
When we consider how long it takes for plastic to break down, and the high levels of plastic pollution found even in areas not inhabited by humans (like the ice and water of the Antarctic), we can start to understand how big of a problem plastic pollution can be.
These sorts of problems have led Charles Moore, an oceanographer and racing boat captain who played a significant role in discovering and publicizing the great Pacific Garbage Patch, to argue that plastic pollution has become a more urgent problem for ocean life than climate change. “The sad thing is we thought Antarctic waters were clean,” he told the Australian Associated Press after the Tara‘s findings were announced. ”We no longer have an ocean anywhere that is free of pollution.”
With widespread plastic usage, it is likely that these problems will only get worse. Reuseit.com reports that:
• Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
• About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
• A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
• More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008.
• Only 1 in 200 plastic bags in the UK are recycled (BBC).
• The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
• Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008).
• Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
• Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
Some people reading this are defaulting to the “oh please, everything is going to kill us anymore, this is just alarmist and fear inducing,” mindset, and we don’t blame them. It is hard not to feel like everything is out to get us sometimes, but we truly believe that plastic exposure might be the “cigarettes” of our generation.
What Can We Do?
One big thing we can all do is to reduce the amount of plastic products we are buying and using. This will reduce our own exposure to plastic pollution, our planet’s plastic load, and will often save money as well.
People sometimes worry that sharing a bar of soap is less sanitary than sharing a bottle of liquid soap. But think about it: the bar soap gets rinsed off every time you use it. The plastic pump? Not so much. Where do you think the most germs are accumulating?