Plastic pollution is a major environmental problem that is having a devastating impact on the global economy. The cost of plastic pollution to the global economy is estimated to be $120 billion. This includes the cost of cleaning up plastic pollution, the cost of lost tourism revenue, and the cost of damage to marine ecosystems.
- One of the biggest costs of plastic pollution is the cost of cleaning it up. In 2018, the United States spent an estimated $11.5 billion on cleaning up plastic pollution. This cost is expected to increase as the amount of plastic pollution continues to grow.
- Another major cost of plastic pollution is the loss of tourism revenue. Plastic pollution is making beaches and other tourist destinations less attractive. In 2018, the tourism industry in Thailand lost an estimated $1 billion due to plastic pollution.
The global economy is facing a serious problem with plastic pollution. The cost of plastic pollution is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. Businesses and governments need to take action to reduce plastic pollution and its impact on the global economy.
Why Was Plastic Invented?
Plastic was invented to meet the growing demand for new materials that were lightweight, durable, and resistant to corrosion. Early plastics were used to replace scarce or expensive natural materials, such as ivory and tortoiseshell.
They were also used to create new products with desirable properties, such as food packaging and medical devices. Additionally, plastic was often less expensive to produce than traditional materials, such as metal and glass. This made it possible to produce products at a lower cost, which could benefit consumers.
What is Plastic?
Plastic is a material that can be molded into different shapes. It is made from chemicals called polymers. Polymers are made up of long chains of molecules.
- Plastics are used in many different things, such as food packaging, toys, and bottles. They are popular because they are cheap, lightweight, and durable.
However, plastics can also be harmful to the environment. They can take hundreds or even thousands of years to decompose. This means that when plastic is thrown away, it can stay in the environment for a very long time.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, less than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) in length. They can be found in all parts of the environment, from the air and water to soil and food. Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including:
- Primary microplastics: These are tiny plastic particles that are intentionally manufactured and added to products, such as microbeads in cosmetics, plastic pellets used in manufacturing, and microfibers shed from synthetic clothing.
- Secondary microplastics: These are plastic particles that form from the breakdown of larger plastic items, such as plastic bottles, bags, and fishing nets.
Microplastics are a serious environmental problem because they can be ingested by animals and humans, and they can also leach harmful chemicals into the environment.
Extensive use of plastic and single-use plastic items
The extensive use of plastic and single-use plastic items has a number of negative environmental and human health impacts, including pollution, wildlife harm, and climate change. Some chemicals used in plastic production have been linked to health problems.
Single-use plastic items are particularly problematic because they are designed to be used once and then thrown away. This means that they generate a lot of waste. In fact, single-use plastics account for the majority of plastic pollution in the oceans.
Some of the most common single-use plastic items include:
- Plastic bags
- Plastic straws
- Plastic utensils
- Plastic stirrers
- Plastic water bottles
- Plastic food containers
- Plastic coffee cups
- Plastic condiment packets
Impacts of microplastics
- Animal health: Animals can mistake microplastics for food and ingest them. This can lead to a number of health problems, including intestinal blockages, starvation, and even death. Microplastics have been found in the stomachs of a wide variety of animals, including fish, seabirds, whales, and dolphins.
- Human health: The long-term health effects of microplastic ingestion in humans are not fully known. However, some studies have shown that microplastics can be absorbed into the bloodstream and may travel to other organs in the body. Microplastics have also been found in human breast milk and placentas.
- Environmental pollution: Microplastics can pollute water, soil, and air. They can also accumulate in food chains and make their way into the food that we eat.
What happens to plastic waste?
Plastic waste is a major environmental problem. It is estimated that only 9% of plastic waste is recycled, and the rest ends up in landfills or the environment.
- Plastic waste that ends up in landfills can take hundreds or even thousands of years to decompose. As it decomposes, it releases harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater. Plastic waste can also leach harmful chemicals into the air when it is exposed to sunlight and heat.
- Plastic waste that ends up in the environment can pollute our oceans, rivers, lakes, and forests. It can also harm wildlife. For example, animals can become entangled in plastic waste or mistake it for food and eat it.
- Some plastic waste is incinerated, or burned. This process can generate harmful air pollutants, such as dioxins and furans.
- Plastic waste that is recycled is melted down and turned into new products. However, not all plastic can be recycled, and the quality of recycled plastic is often lower than the quality of new plastic.
What can be done to reduce plastic pollution?
- Reduce our use of single-use plastic products: This includes things like plastic bags, straws, and water bottles.
- Avoid products that contain microbeads: This includes cosmetics, toothpaste, and exfoliating scrubs.
- Wash synthetic clothing less often and use a filter when washing them: This will help to reduce the amount of microfibers that are shed into the environment.
- Support businesses that are committed to reducing plastic pollution: This includes buying products that are packaged in recycled materials or that are made from sustainable materials.
Businesses and Governments can do to reduce plastic pollution:
- Businesses can reduce their use of plastic packaging. Businesses can switch to more sustainable packaging materials, such as paper and compostable materials.
- Governments can ban single-use plastics. Governments can ban the use of single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws, and utensils.
- Governments can invest in recycling and waste management infrastructure. Governments need to invest in recycling and waste management infrastructure to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the environment.
- Consumers can reduce their use of plastic. Consumers can reduce their use of plastic by bringing their own reusable bags and water bottles, and by avoiding products that are packaged in plastic.
Individuals, businesses, and governments can reduce plastic use by reducing, reusing, recycling, composting, and supporting businesses that are committed to reducing plastic use.
By taking these steps, we can create a more circular economy for plastics, where the value of the material is retained and plastic pollution is reduced. This will benefit both the environment and the global economy.
Thanks: Image by brgfx on Freepik