Designed for Immortality

Since the inception of plastic, 9.2 billion metric tons have been produced, of which 75% is now waste. The cheap nature of plastic has allowed immense global advancement and created near indestructible objects. Now, single-use plastics – used once and thrown out – are inundating our oceans. 

The vast variety of polymers used to create plastic, and the extreme speed at which it is discarded has rendered recycling efforts virtually ineffective. In 2018, only 9% of all plastic waste was recycled. The lifespan of plastics ranges from 450 years to what may be infinity — a daunting fact when considering how much is dumped into our ecosystems. The chemical additives in plastics are hidden pollutants, such as BPA. Known to be estrogenic- and endocrine-disrupting, these additives are leaching into our waterways and into the birds, fish, and other animals that are consuming them. 

Plastic waste is a global problem that varies regionally. Overcrowded urban communities are becoming inundated with plastic waste. Communities previously defined by their beautiful ecosystems and waterways have turned into trash slums. Many of us are fortunate enough to live in countries where municipalities deal with our waste. We need to do little more than wrap our waste in a plastic bag and bring it to the curb; yet millions do not have that privilege. In some parts of the world, people’s homes are built upon layers of garbage, their waterways and shores are inundated, and the hazards of plastic are felt daily. Small Island Developing Nations are struck hard, with little to do with plastic waste but bury or burn. Plastic is overwhelming societies. The heaps of garbage are causing rivers to flood. Often, plastic is used as an alternative to kerosene to start cooking fires, creating many respiratory issues. When plastic is burned, it is known to release dangerous chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, furans, and heavy metals as well as particulates. 

Our oceans have also become victim to a large amount of our plastic waste. An estimated 8.8 million tons enters the ocean annually. The combination of UV rays and saltwater can break plastic up into smaller microplastics. These tiny fragments provide a perfect platform for algae to thrive — as they multiply, they emit dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Krill, a vital food source for countless ocean creatures, rely on algae for sustenance. Following the odor of sulfur, sea life unknowingly consumes plastics, thinking it is krill. More than 200 animal species have now been found to consume plastic and, due to the inability to digest plastic, it can prove fatal. Additionally, plastic waste can trap and suffocate ocean life, leading to untimely deaths.

Plastic can enter the ocean in a variety of ways; some you may not expect. For example, Microbeads found in cosmetics were an eye-opening problem for many people, as they found out their favorite face wash was polluting the ocean. Plastic also can enter the waterways when clothes are washed. Synthetic fibers are released from clothing and race to the ocean. These small plastic particles are known to attract toxins which, after being consumed by fish, can leach into the fish and, in effect, into the predators that eat them, which can ultimately be humans.

Quite literally, the Earth is choking on plastic. The methods employed to reduce the buildup of trash have not been effective. Burning of waste can lead to devastating effects. Our recycling programs are not equipped to handle the massive quantities of plastic produced and discarded, so where do solutions lie?

Plastic Diagram

1. PET (polyethylene terephthalate) beverage bottles, food jars, clothing, and carpet fiber.

2. HDPE (high-density polyethylene) detergent and bleach bottles, snack boxes, milk jugs, toys, buckets, crates, and trash bins.

3. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) credit cards, window frames, gutters, pipe fittings, and synthetic leather.

4. LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) packaging film, shopping bags, bubble wrap and flexible bottles.

Plastic Coke Bottle

5. PP (Polypropylene) bottle tops, drinking straws, lunch boxes, insulated coolers, fabric, traps, and diapers.

6. PS (Polystyrene) plastic-foam cups, egg boxes, meat trays, packaging peanuts, coat hangers, yogurt containers, and insulation.

7. Other: Nylon fabrics, baby bottles, compact disks, medical storage containers, car parts.

1. Treat, Jason, et al. “We Depend on Plastic. Now We’re Drowning in it” 2018.

Plastic timeline

Why we're here

1869

The evolution of plastic began with an admirable mission, to create a substitute for ivory. John Hyatt used cellulose to construct a substation for billiard balls. At that moment, plastics served to protect nature from humans.

1940’s

World War II’s industrial expansion reimagined the uses of plastics and their usability.

1950’s

Post War years saw plastic production increase as its possibilities promised prosperity and endless commodity manufacturing.

1960’s

Environmental activism and concerns began to emerge.

1969

Finding from Keynon and Kridler found plastic in the stomachs of 74 of 100 prematurely dead albatross chicks.

1972

Carpenter and Smith reported the presence of plastic pellets and fragments in all 11 surface net samples in the western Sargasso Sea.
They also suggested that plastic particles could be a source of toxic compounds into marine food webs.

1980’s

plastic waste was a target for environmentalists, and the plastic industry drove municipalities to begin accepting plastic recycling.

1984

First International Conference on Marine Debris

2000

Thompson et al. showed that microscopic plastic fragments and fibers are ubiquitous marine pollutants.

2017

Microbead ban went into effect.

2018

Plastic Bans begin to go into effect all over the world.

2019

Bali plans tourist tax to tackle plastic pollution affecting their tourism

Timeline

1869

The evolution of plastic began with an admirable mission, to create a substitute for ivory. John Hyatt used cellulose to construct a substation for billiard balls. At that moment, plastics served to protect nature from humans.

1940’s

World War II’s industrial expansion reimagined the uses of plastics and their usability.

1950’s

Post War years saw plastic production increase as its possibilities promised prosperity and endless commodity manufacturing.

1960’s

Environmental activism and concerns began to emerge.

1969

Finding from Keynon and Kridler found plastic in the stomachs of 74 of 100 prematurely dead albatross chicks.

1972

Carpenter and Smith reported the presence of plastic pellets and fragments in all 11 surface net samples in the western Sargasso Sea. They also suggested that plastic particles could be a source of toxic compounds into marine food webs.

1980’s

plastic waste was a target for environmentalists, and the plastic industry drove municipalities to begin accepting plastic recycling.

1984

First International Conference on Marine Debris

2000

Thompson et al. showed that microscopic plastic fragments and fibers are ubiquitous marine pollutants.

2017

Microbead ban went into effect.

2018

Plastic Bans begin to go into effect all over the world.

2019

Bali plans tourist tax to tackle plastic pollution affecting their tourism
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