Plastics are among the most widely used materials in the global economy, while at the same time being the most omnipresent and long-lasting pollutants on Earth. Although we began using them on an industrial scale just a few decades ago, to this day we have produced an amount that – if turned into a plastic wrap – would be able to cover the entire globe. Today, scientists estimate that 269 tonnes of plastic are floating in the oceans, but this number is less than 1% of global production.
Where does “used” plastic end up?
The most widespread type of plastic waste, regardless of the place on Earth we examine, is single-use bags, bottles, and food packaging. One glance at the shelves of any supermarket explains everything – indicating the problem is the abundance of products packaged with the use of plastic that is rarely recycled. More often than not, such waste is burned (emitting tonnes of greenhouse gases in the process), ends up in landfills or, unfortunately, in places such as parks or roadside ditches.
Studies show that each year 4-12 million tonnes of plastic flow down to the oceans. There, the waste can accumulate and create so-called oceanic garbage patches that have been detected in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and even in the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. During decomposition, plastic breaks down into very small pieces called microplastics. These particles are extremely dangerous as they can be ingested by marine organisms and make their way up the food chain to finally end up in our bodies. According to the report presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, by 2050 there can be more plastic in the oceans than there will be fish.
Plastics accumulates in the environment, but also inside our bodies!
It is difficult to estimate the real impact of plastics that pollute the environment. Nonetheless, the fact that plastics and the toxic additives used in their production pose a serious threat to our health is not a new discovery. Many chemical compounds that can be found in plastic products are known to interfere with the proper functioning of the endocrine system. Among such substances are bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. We may hardly notice their negative impact on our health since cancer or endocrine disorders develop over long periods of time and are rarely caused by a single factor.
The risk connected to the evergrowing flood of plastics is immense, regardless of whether we measure it by its impact on the environment or on our health. Unfortunately, we often do not fully grasp the scale of that risk. However, everyone can be a part of the solution by decreasing or giving up completely their use of single-use plastic products that are so abundant in daily life. A time it takes to produce a plastic bag is one second, the average time of exploitation is less than one hour, however, up to 500 years can pass until it degrades.