We’re surrounded. There’s no escaping it. Plastic has become the commodity that no one in our society can seem to live without. Try as we might it is in our electronic devices, cars, school supplies, personal hygiene products, and the packaging of our foods. Plastic is a cheap and durable material that has benefitted our lives in many ways. However, with those benefits come some severe consequences to our health and the environment. Although plastic cannot be entirely eradicated from our lives because of its overabundance, it is possible to reduce its usage and reduce the negative effect it has on our lives and our planet while still enjoying some of its benefits.
Plastic has been in use for about 150 years. In 1909 chemist Leo Baekeland created Bakelite, the first synthetic polymer capable of being molded into a solid object (Discovery.com). In the 1930s nylon was discovered, and since World War II the plastic industry has boomed. The invention of plastic has changed human existence because it is such a versatile material. Plastic is lightweight, has excellent thermal and electrical insulation properties, is corrosion resistant, transparent, and is easily molded into complex shapes and forms of any size (The Plastics Portal). Plastic is also cheap and therefore the most ideal material for companies to utilize when making their products. For these reasons plastic has gotten to the point where it overruns almost every aspect our lives. The United States alone consumes 1500 plastic water bottles every second (Tree Hugger). All of this waste in making its way into our environment and causing serious damage because plastic cannot fully decompose. As a result, the resulting particles of plastic are being integrated into our ecosystem and the food chain which raises some serious health concerns. Even though it can be quite dangerous, plastic has become such an integral part of our lives it is impossible to be entirely rid of it, however, it is possible to reduce the amount of plastic that is consumed.
There is a group of people who call themselves plasticarians that are promoting this very thing. Plasticarians are those people who for health, environmental, or other personal reasons have decided to rid their lives of as much plastic as possible (Cochrane, 2013). There are items such as cars, toothbrushes, deodorant, and cell phones that logically would not make sense to get rid of. However, there are many items such as disposable water bottles, plastic bags, and disposable dishes and utensils that can easily be removed from everyday life. If every person cut back even a little bit on disposable plastic items we would see an incredible decrease in the environmental impact of plastic.
Reducing the amount of plastic we use is not the only way to reduce the effects of plastic on the environment and our health. Recycling is another great option available to people that helps reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the environment. When items are recycled they can be used to make all new products and significantly reduce the amount of new plastic that needs to be made. Despite that fact, only 30% of recyclable waste is actually sent to recycling facilities (Dosomething.org). Many people fail to recognize the real benefits available if they recycle. For instance, recycling just 100 aluminum cans could light a bedroom for two full weeks (Dosomething.org)! Therefore, the recycling program not only needs to be emphasized in communities, but information about its benefits needs to be readily available to the general population.
Recycling is just one of the many ways to safely dispose of plastic products. For example, Best Buy now has gift card recycling kiosks where you can drop off your old gift cards that can then be recycled and made into new cards (Caldwell, 2010). The U.S. Postal service has teamed up with Clover Technologies Group in order to provide free recycling for electronic devices (Caldwell, 2010). There are even companies that will accept old athletic equipment that they can recycle and keep the plastic materials from ending up in a landfill (Caldwell, 2010).
Highly motivated individuals are not the only ones that have recognized the dangers that plastic is posing to our environment and the health of the human race. Governments around the world are taking measures to ensure the reduction of plastic consumption in their countries. Ireland introduced a fifteen cent tax on plastic bags, which is now 22 cents, and reduced its usage by a staggering 90 percent (Ocean Crusaders). In June of 2013 Los Angeles, California placed a ban on plastic bags that requires shoppers to provide their own bags (Walker, 2013). L.A. has set the example for cities across the nation and consequently there have been many more anti-plastic laws being proposed in legislatures. As more and more cities begin to place a ban on plastic bags the world will undoubtedly see a decline in the amount of plastic ending up in our landfills.
Plastic is an incredibly useful and versatile material that has made many wonderful technologies and conveniences available. However, with convenience has come many negative impacts on the environment and has begun to affect the health of the human race and wildlife around the world. In order to reduce these negative consequences individuals, organizations, and governments have come up with ways to reduce the use of plastic in our everyday lives and ways to dispose of it safely without having an impact on the environment. If each person did their part to reduce the amount of plastic they allow into their lives and to dispose of it in environmentally friendly ways, the world would see an overwhelming decrease in environmental destruction and a lessening of emerging human health problems resulting from plastic.
Caldwell, K. (2010, July 28). 7 Surprising Ways to Get Rid of Your Plastic | Rodale News. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from http://www.rodalenews.com/recycling-program?page=0,5
Cochrane, K. (2013, June 10). Should we purge plastic from our lives? | Life and style | The Guardian. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2013/jun/10/purge-plastic-health-environment-plasticarian
Discovery.com (n.d.). Who invented plastic? - Curiosity. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/who-invented-plastic
Dosomething.org (n.d.). 11 Facts About Recycling | Do Something. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from http://www.dosomething.org/actnow/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-recycling
Ocean Crusaders (n.d.). Plastic Statistics: Plastic Ain't so Fantastic. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from http://oceancrusaders.org/plastic-crusades/plastic-statistics/
The Plastic Portal (n.d.). PlasticsEurope - Use of plastics - PlasticsEurope. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from http://www.plasticseurope.org/use-of-plastics.aspx
Tree Hugger (n.d.). The US Consumes 1500 Plastic Water Bottles Every Second, a fact by Watershed. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from http://www.treehugger.com/clean-water/the-us-consumes-1500-plastic-water-bottles-every-second-a-fact-by-watershed.html
Walker, J. (2013, June 25). Los Angeles Bans Free Plastic Bags In Grocery Stores. Retrieved November 20, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/los-angeles-plastic-bags-banned_n_3500576.html