The Problem with Plastic

Giant pile of plastic

Why is plastic a problem?

We are in a crisis. Plastic pollution has reached unimaginable levels, everywhere on the planet, littering every single corner of it1. But it’s not just the plastic we can see; tiny particles of plastic called microplastics are found in our water, our food, even the air we breathe. It’s poisoning our environment, our communities, and threatening whole ecosystems. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the ocean, and microplastics have been found raining down from the sky in remote pristine locations2.

Plastic endangers wildlife

Turtle trapped with plastics in the oceanTurtle trapped with plastics in the ocean

100,000 marine animals die each year from plastic pollution

The wildlife impact of plastic pollution is unthinkable. All animals, regardless of whether they live on land or in the sea, are harmed by plastic pollution. 

Globally, 100,000 marine mammals die every year as a result of plastic pollution. This includes whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions, as 40% of marine mammals are affected by eating plastic2. Mistaking plastic for food, many animals of all sizes ingest plastic, suffering obstructions, stomach ruptures and starvation. 

Discarded fishing nets are also an appalling issue. An estimated 640,000 tonnes of the eight million tonnes of plastic that enters the oceans every year as ghost gear that’s either deliberately jettisoned or washed from ships or shorelines3. Ghost fishing equipment entangles countless animals, strangling and drowning them.

Microplastics contaminate the food chain

Microplastics have been found at the top of mountains, at the bottom of the ocean, in the atmosphere, in tap and bottled water4, in animals, and in the human body. Recently, researchers have shown that microplastics are contaminating fruit and vegetables, including apples, carrots and lettuces after being absorbed through their roots, meaning they have infiltrated the food chain far more than previously thought. It is thought we could be ingesting an average of 5 grams of plastic every week, the equivalent of a credit card5.

Microplastics contaminating the fish and by humans chainMicroplastics contaminating the fish and by humans chain

Negative effects on human health

Many plastics require chemical additives or coatings that can leach out harmful substances. There is evidence that these chemicals can be detrimental to the environment, but also to human health.

While the health effects of microplastics are largely unknown, plastics are known to have endocrine-disrupting effects, which means they alter the way hormones normally function in the body. Microplastics present a potential two-fold risk because they are not only composed of harmful chemicals, but they accumulate additional persistent organic pollutants as they float in our oceans. As they are becoming increasingly prevalent in the food chain, scientists and health professionals have focused more attention on the potential health risks for humans.
- Mark Hahn, Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Chair of the Biology Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Economic impact on tourism industry

Plastic bottle on the beachPlastic bottle on the beach

Shocking excess pollution in developing countries leads to reduced tourism in affected areas which has a real economic impact. For example, a single marine litter event in South Korea resulted in a revenue loss of €29m in 2011 compared to 2010, as a result of over 500,000 fewer visitors to the country6. Cleaning up plastic pollution is an expensive and colossal task. Shared responsibility makes the exercise both complex, time-consuming and logistically challenging.

Plastic harms at every stage of its lifecycle

Plastic is convenient. Massive amounts are used and thrown away, especially as single-use plastic items have become part of our daily lives. It is estimated that every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans7. But few people ask themselves what happens to it once it’s thrown “away”, nor do they realise where it’s coming from.

In reality, plastic causes serious issues at every stage of its lifecycle.

Assorted plastic bottlesAssorted plastic bottles

Made from non-renewable resources

Plastic is made from fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. That means that the health and climate impacts of oil and gas extraction and transportation8 are also part of the lifecycle of plastic. Next, these fuels are converted into the chemical ingredients for plastic by factories that release toxic emissions into the environment.

91% of plastic isn’t recycled

The end-of-life of plastic is also problematic: it’s become unmanageable. Only 9% of the plastic ever created has been recycled9. We have too much of it and the vast majority ends up in landfills, in the environment, or being openly burned. Littered plastic poisons and chokes wildlife, and as it breaks down into smaller fragments, it gets into every single living being in the food chain.

Many countries are not able to recycle their plastic waste and choose to incinerate it instead. This practice often releases toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, as well as Co2, which contributes to climate change.

How can we fix the plastic problem?

By saying “No” to plastic whenever we can.

At BioPak, we believe in a world free from plastic pollution, where materials are turned into new resources in a circular economy. By looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, we can gradually decouple economic activities from the consumption of finite resources, and design waste out of the system.

We provide businesses with access to products and services that allow them to participate in a circular and regenerative system by diverting waste from landfill and converting it into nutrient-rich compost. Our products are certified either industrial or home compostable. When disposed of responsibly, they can be turned into a new resource, compost, which creates jobs locally, and helps fight drought and climate change10.


More information:

Sources:

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/24/record-levels-of-plastic-discovered-in-arctic-sea-ice

(2) https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/microplastics-pollution-falls-from-air-even-mountains/

(3)https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/plastic-in-our-oceans-is-killing-marine-mammals#gs.dtvtss

(4)https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/15/microplastics-found-in-more-than-90-of-bottled-water-study-says

(5)https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/you-re-eating-microplastics-in-ways-you-don-t-even-realisehttp://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf

(6)https://www.worldfinance.com/markets/counting-the-cost-of-plastic-pollution

(7)https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/every-minute-one-garbage-truck-of-plastic-is-dumped-into-our-oceans/

(8)https://www.storyofplastic.org/learn

(9)https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment

(10https://blog.mraconsulting.com.au/2010/09/02/killing-two-birds-the-compost-and-carbon-story/