The current state of plastic in the world

the current state of plastic

In recent years, plastic pollution has become a hot topic among those concerned about environmental issues. Single-use plastic products are everywhere, and they are beginning to suffocate us and our planet. In fact, plastic pollution has become so severe that a global treaty needed to be signed to make countries take some action.


Even though many countries did make a big effort to control and lessen the amount of disposable plastic that finds its way into the oceans, it still isn't enough. Around the world, people buy 500 billion plastic bottles each year. Moreover, each minute almost 1 million single-use plastic bags end up in the trash, adding up to 500 billion a year. Also, statistics say that 22 to 58 million tons of plastic waste will end up in our oceans in the next ten years.


But how did this happen, and is there anything we can do about it? Let's find out.


How did we get in this mess?


Plastic products made from fossil fuels appeared only about a century ago. However, they've become really popular after World War II. Generally speaking, plastic has made our lives so much easier. It helped us create a plethora of medical equipment, such as incubators. Also, it makes our cars and jets lighter, so now we can travel even to outer space.


However, producing plastic has become too convenient since it's cheaper than many other materials. So, it didn't take long for factories to switch from making durable plastic products to those meant for one use.


This fact led to, what we call, the throwaway culture that has taken over the world. Today, 50% of plastic products we make are single-use, which means they have a life span of only a couple of minutes. Yet, they end up staying in our landfills and oceans for a few hundred years. Today, we create more than 380 million tons of plastic waste in a single year.


However, only 9% of all plastic ever produced was recycled. Some of it we burn, and 79% of it ends up in nature. The most common type of plastic trash we can find in natural environments is cigarette buds containing tiny plastic fibers. The runner-ups are drinking bottles and their caps, followed by food wrappers, bags, straws, and stirrers. If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic than fish in our oceans.



What Happens to Plastic Waste After It Ends Up In Nature


Plastic from our cities and landfills somehow finds its way into the oceans. Major rivers take more and more garbage as they flow downstream and spill it into the world's last sink. Once there, plastic waste usually sticks around the coasts, but some of it gets pulled by currents and ends up on a journey to the world's farthest corners.


For example, on Henderson Island, an uninhabited island somewhere between Chile and New Zealand, experts have found plastic trash from many countries such as Europe, Russia, the US, and South America.





Once in oceans, sunlight, waves, and winds break down plastic products into microplastic, small particles less than one-fifth of an inch in size. And they never disappear — they just keep getting smaller and smaller. Moreover, they are everywhere now. Microplastic has been found in our food, tap water, the air we breathe, on the highest peaks of Mount Everest, as well as in the depths of the Mariana trench.


Plastic Hurts Wildlife


Plastic kills millions of animals every year, from fish and marine animals to birds. It affects almost 700 species of animals, including some endangered ones. Most of these animals die of starvation or suffocate because they get tangled in fishing nets, six-pack rings, and plastic bags. Moreover, they mistake bits of plastic for food. With stomachs filled with garbage, they don't feel hunger and slowly die of starvation.


But, this problem is not limited to sea life — it affects land animals as well, including zebras, tigers, camels, elephants, cattle, hyenas, and many more.



Is There Something We Can Do About Plastic Pollution?


The main issue is that once plastic trash enters our seas and oceans, it becomes almost impossible to retrieve. There are some methods to collect bigger pieces, such as plastic cups or plates. But once plastic breaks into microplastic, there's no way to clean the water or land from it.


So, if we want to salvage this situation at least a bit, we need to stop the continual flow of plastic pollution into landfills and waters. We can do this by investing in recycling and stopping the production of disposable plastic products.


Although the numbers and statistics we've mentioned earlier look horrifying, they are actually better than what was expected. In the past ten years, many governments worldwide have taken the initiative to lower the amount of plastic waste they produce, especially from single-use plastic.


However, these efforts are not nearly enough to significantly affect the amount of plastic that we still produce, let alone deal with plastic pollution already in oceans and landfills. So, we need to do more.


We might not be able to influence the biggest companies that make plastic products, but many other responsible companies care about our planet. Such businesses have made it their mission to make quality items out of sustainable materials. This way, they do their part in making our world a slightly better place.



But What Can You Do?


There are plenty of ways you can show support for this amazing initiative to end plastic pollution. You can start by avoiding disposable plastic cups, food wrappings, straws, and similar items. It takes a bit of creativity, but it's not that hard to find alternatives. Moreover, you can invite people and businesses in your local community to start doing the same.


Final Thoughts


Plastic pollution is a major issue today, just like air pollution and CO2 emissions. However, while there are clear ways to deal with the latter, we might never be able to remedy the damage caused by plastic completely. Still, it doesn't mean that we should stop trying.


We could take inspiration from the companies and individuals who are already doing their best to avoid production and the use of disposable plastic. Together, we can make this world a cleaner place, one sustainable item at a time.

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