PLASTIC POLLUTION: ADDICTION TO PLASTIC BOTTLES

Plastic pollution is a growing topic of concern around the world. Is our planet’s addiction to plastic bottles as dangerous as climate change? The short answer is yes. Scientists are making the harmful effects of plastic water bottles on humans and the environment clear.

People worldwide are using over one million plastic bottles every minute!  Furthermore, many experts believe that by the end of the decade the use of plastic bottles will continue to skyrocket.  They predict the production of plastic bottles will top half a trillion each year. What if we put all of the plastic drinking bottles end to end? Believe it or not,  they would create a line that would be halfway to the sun!

The increase in urbanization creates a higher demand for plastic bottles. In short, urbanization is a population shift from rural to urban areas. Our culture’s need for bottled beverages has people buying about 20,000 plastic bottles every second.  Additionally, our on-the-go lifestyle will only drive the need for plastic bottles higher. The biggest areas where urbanization is happening are in China and the Asia Pacific region. These regions are partly responsible for the increased demand for plastic bottles. The recent increase is due to the growing concerns with living a healthier life and concerns about the quality of the groundwater.

HOW ARE PLASTIC BOTTLES MADE?

Highly recyclable material is used to make the majority of plastic bottles. Polyethylene terephthalate or Pet for short is what plastic bottles are made of.

So, if highly recyclable materials are used to make plastic bottles, why are they such a major source of pollution?

Plastic bottles are a major pollution source because the efforts to collect and recycle them are failing.  Manufacturers are producing plastic bottles so quickly it’s hard to keep up with the ever-growing usage across the globe.

What about recycling?  Is that the solution to our increasing plastic danger?

Unfortunately, only 7% of the bottles turned in actually become new plastic bottles.

So where did the rest of these plastic bottles end up?

The majority of plastic bottles end up in landfills or in our oceans. According to research done by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, somewhere between 5 to 13 million tons of plastic finds its way into our oceans each year. After these plastic bottles break down sea birds, fish, and other organisms eat them. In fact, many experts are already reporting that microplastic pollution has found its way into our food chain.

 WHAT IS MICROPLASTIC POLLUTION?

Microplastics are tiny particles and fragments of plastic that are no bigger than 5mm. The majority of microplastic pollution comes from the particles created when plastic garbage begins to degrade in our oceans.  Since microplastics are so small, they are difficult to filter out and affect many sea life organisms. Then when we consume seafood these plastics affect us. Scientists at Ghent University estimated that people who eat seafood end up ingesting more than 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic each year.

A study by Plymouth University found that one-third of the UK’s caught fish (including cod, haddock, mackerel, and shellfish) had plastic found in their digestion system. Therefore the European Food Safety Authority called for urgent research on microplastic pollution. The researchers found that there is an increasing concern for human health and food safety.  They pointed out the “potential for microplastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish” is increasing.

It’s impossible for plastics to usefully incorporate themselves into the food chain.  Sealife eats the toxins contained in plastics and that seafood ends up on our plates. Hugo Tagholm stated that “the plastic pollution crisis rivals the threat of climate change as it pollutes every natural system and an increasing number of organisms on planet Earth.”

HOW DO PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES AFFECT HUMANS?

On one of the world’s most remote islands researchers found near 18 tons of plastic waste.  How is it that an uninhabited coral in the South Pacific can have so much plastic pollution? Another study had found that some of the Arctic’s remote beaches were heavily polluted with plastic.  Global plastic bottle use even impacts places with small local populations.  Today some of Britain’s most beautiful beaches have become overrun with plastic pollution.  This plastic pollution is endangering wildlife in all places it’s present. So, it’s easy to see that plastic pollution is everywhere.

Plastic pollution pretty much affects all living organisms, but it affects ocean life the most. For example, sea life can mistake the plastic garbage for food and end up eating it causing digestive issues. Additionally, they may also eat microplastics from some of their other food sources. Ocean life can become entangled in plastic bags, rings, and other garbage.  Once something is entangled it can die because it won’t be able to breathe. Ocean life can also get an infection from the plastic pollution becoming embedded into its body.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP REDUCE PLASTIC BOTTLE POLLUTION?

There are a couple of ways that we can help reduce the amount of plastic that contributes to plastic pollution. For example, one way is to follow the reduce, reuse, and recycle. By recycling plastic waste, we help to reduce the usage of fuel fossils needed and reuse the recycled plastic to help make new bottles.

Ocean campaigner for Greenpeace, Louisa Casson made a shocking discovery on one of her trips. During her expedition on a remote Scottish coastline, she saw plastic bottles everywhere.  After that, Casson commented, “it’s clear that the soft drinks industry needs to reduce its plastic footprint.”

Many soft drink companies are using recycled plastic (RPet) bottles to help make new ones. However, for all new plastic bottles to be made of 100% RPet more factories need to produce high-quality recycled food-grade plastic. So, for there to be enough recycled plastic for the soft drink industry to use in the new bottles, a new system is needed.  For instance, one such new system is a circular economy.  This means, that industries would improve the way they make bottles.  Above all, they would focus on using more recycled bottles in each new bottle created.

In conclusion, the solution to plastic bottle pollution is complex.

How can you help to reduce your use of plastic bottles?

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