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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Side of Plastic

Posted on September 5th 2019 by Chloe Harris.

Plastic has been in use for as long as most of us can remember, yet is it necessary? What can we do to reduce our usage of this material that is so deeply entwined in our lives? Plastic began to take off in the 1950’s, the shortage of natural materials in World War II lead to the synthetic alternative. All industry sectors use plastic, with the largest usage being with packaging materials. Packaging accounts for almost half of plastic waste. With the economy growth in Asia, half of the worlds plastics are made there with 29% being made in China alone.

Challenges of Recycling

Source: National Geographic

The Good

When plastics were first used, they were often used in good and effective ways, in fact helping to save lives. Plastics were in nylon parachutes in World War II, and helped to save elephants from hunting for their ivory. Plastic became a replacement for many ivory products including piano keys. Unfortunately, this changed when companies started producing items only intended for single use. The first products of this kind were plastic tableware, advertised as ‘throwaway living’.

The Bad

In 2015 around 40% of the 448 million tons of plastic produced were disposable and single use products. Coca-cola admitted that it creates 128 billions plastic bottles a year. In growing economies, such as those in Asia, garage collections are often underdeveloped. These countries have seen a surge in use of disposable plastic packaging, thus, making a huge difference to the plastic crisis. This waste is often mismanaged which means a large proportion ends up in the ocean. The Pasig river, in the Philippines, runs from the capital to the Manila Bay, and in 1990 was declared biologically dead due to pollution. Now as much as 72,000 tons of plastic flow down into the bay each year. Yet, due to efforts to revive the river, fishes are now thriving there and many large fish are being spotted in the river.

Plastic Filled River

The Ugly

The plastic going into the oceans, affects and kills millions of marine animals each year. It affects almost 700 species including many endangered ones. Many animals ingest the plastics, which cannot be digested. Other animals get caught in the plastics, with many animals being found caught in six packs rings, sometimes living with these for years but many die. Animals that live near to the sea can also mistake this for food washing up from the ocean.

So, what can we do to help?

10 Tips to Reduce Plastic

  1. Stop using plastic ware at home, this includes plastic straws. Requesting your take-out restaurants do not supply them with your meal either.
  2. Reuse containers for leftovers, and use to pack lunches. This includes taking a reusable mug or bottle out with you instead of buying bottled drinks while out.
  3. One plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade, therefore purchase or make reusable bags to take out while shopping.
  4. Where possible purchase products in boxes or refillable containers therefore reducing wasted packaging.
  5. Using matches instead of disposable plastic lighters.
  6. Fresh food packaging often has less than frozen items, therefore swapping frozen to fresh when possible.
  7. Making fresh fruit juice or eating fruit instead of purchasing juice in plastic bottles.
  8. If your local areas offers a milk delivery use it, this means milk in glass bottles which are collected and reused.
  9. Choose drinks, for example wine, with natural corks instead of a modern screw top. It’s nicer anyway! this website offers a way to see which wine bottles have natural corks.
  10. Give up chewing gum, this is made from plastic. Although only a small thing this can be swapped for plastic free alternatives.

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