SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: A DEVIL IN DISGUISE
Single-use plastics are those plastics meant to be disposed of right after usage. They are most commonly used for packaging and for items such as bags, wrappers, bottles, surgical gloves, and straws – all of which make up a small fraction of its usage. Many of these uses are not only reasonable but vital.
According to a 2017 study, plastic packaging accounts for more than half of non-fibre plastics, excluding synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon, and the majority of them are for single-use items.
Why are Single-Use Plastics not good?
Single-use plastics are an example of the issues with throw-away culture. We frequently value convenience over sturdiness and consideration of long-term effects rather than investing in quality things that will last. Our dependence on single-use plastics implies we’re amassing waste at an overwhelming rate. Another report showed that about 300 million tons of plastics are produced globally every year and almost half of it is for single-use items.
Recycling more plastics more frequently helps to reduce its footprint. Polyethylene terephthalate, one of the most commonly recycled plastics and the material that makes up most soda and water bottles, can be converted into anything from automotive parts to polyester fabric.
However, a whopping 91% of all plastic is non-recyclable and ultimately ends up in the environment or landfills. Single-use plastics, especially those small items like cutlery, bags, and straws are usually hard to recycle. This is because they easily fall into the crevices of recycling machinery and are hence often not accepted by recycling centres.
Even if plastic does not end up in the ocean, recycled plastic is often exported from high-income countries to developing countries to process. But the sheer amount of plastic waste floods communities until they are drowning under thousands of tons of plastic trash.
Not only does the waste destroy the land itself, but also when plastic is incinerated as is the case for unrecyclable plastic at some illegal facilities, its toxic fumes quickly become a health hazard for residents, leading to everything from cancer to skin rashes.
Also read >>> 10 Top Tips to Reduce Plastic Pollution
What are microplastics?
If left alone, plastics only break up; they do not break down. But over time, heat and sun slowly turn plastics into smaller pieces until they finally become “microplastics.”
Microplastics (microscopic plastic) are fragments of plastics usually no more than 5 millimetres long and are hard to detect. They are ubiquitous and in one way or another end up being eaten by wildlife, in the water, and inside our bodies. For wildlife, microplastics can be particularly dangerous. They can easily accumulate inside an animal’s body when eaten, causing health issues like severe intestinal blockages or punctured organs.
Continuous exposure to microplastics and other chemicals added to plastics during processing is hazardous to our health. Many of the chemicals included in plastics have been identified as hormone disruptors. Research has shown that human exposure could cause hormonal imbalances, cancer, and even reproductive problems like infertility. The phthalate DEHP is just one example of many. It is often added to plastic items like garden hoses and shower curtains to make them more flexible.
Single-Use Plastics Pollution
Although single-use plastic pollution accumulates most evidently on our streets our water suffers even more. Plastics thrown on the street can be carried away by rain or move through storm drains into streams and rivers, making litter the first stage in a waste stream that enters waterways.
Waterway plastic pollution
Our waterway plastic pollution is particularly concentrated. The weight of this waste invasion into marine environments is borne by marine species. Beached whales have been discovered with stomachs full of plastic trash. Recent studies have also found plastic in the guts of 100% of the turtles and 90% of the seabirds tested. Scientists predict that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the water than fish by weight. Plastic kills millions of marine animals and seabirds each year. It also contaminates seafood that we have eaten for years, particularly in the form of microplastics in the intestines of animals.
Plastic pollution and the climate
Our plastic addiction has also had a harmful influence on the environment. Plastic manufacture adds to global warming greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its life cycle, according to a recent analysis. Drilling for plastic’s primary materials, oil and gas, results in methane leakage and flaring, and is frequently linked with the clearance of forests and wetlands that would otherwise trap carbon.
Refineries, which convert crude oil into plastic, are one of the most greenhouse gas-intensive manufacturing businesses. The need to slow global warming has become increasingly pressing.
Should We Ban Single-Use Plastics?
Plastic is putting a strain on waste management systems, our oceans, and vulnerable communities globally. A wave of single-use plastic bans is sweeping the globe—most often on plastic bags, straws, stirrers, and takeout clamshells. Some places are going as far as banning single-use plastics entirely; most notably, India intends to go this route by 2022. Plastic bag bans, ideally accompanied by a fee on paper bags are also catching on. Hawaii and New York State just passed theirs and are set to go into effect in 2020. California’s bag ban passed in 2014 has been shown to have reduced plastic bag usage by 85% (with some customers opting to pay a 10% fee for thicker plastic bags) and has reduced coastal pollution.
What do the bans accomplish?
Every year, millions of tons of plastic are kept out of landfills because to the prohibition. And every ton matters when it comes to rubbish that will last forever. Single-use plastic bans not only reduce pollution, but they also help the environment. It also lessens the demand for plastic manufacturing, which contributes to global warming. Aside from these ramifications, the bans have cultural ramifications. It aids in changing consumer habits by recognizing that excessive and wasteful waste is not sustainable. Companies must also innovate, rethink their designs, and acquire environmentally friendly materials.
How to Avoid Single-Use Plastics
The most effective means to avoid plastic waste and the impacts linked to plastic production is to reduce its use. Individual choices and the collective shifts they bring about can add up quickly. Making just a simple swap, like purchasing a reusable water bottle and bags, can go a long way in avoiding single-use plastics, thereby saving the environment hundreds of plastic bottles per year.
few more tips to getting rid of single-use plastics from your life and your community are as follows:
- Always get a reusable bag when shopping. Recent reports supported the claim that reusable totes are better for the environment than plastics.
- Buy in bulk. Avoid separately packaged items, like snack packs.
- Avoid plastic wrap overall by storing food leftovers in reusable containers. Try reusable and compostable beeswax wrap for a decorative and easy option.
- Go for reusable bamboo straw plus reusable cutlery (like bamboo, wood, or metal chopsticks) for sustainable eating on the go.
- Talk to the owner of the restaurants you frequent. Ask if they have non-plastic alternatives to plastic bags, stirrers, or straws.