The term “plastic pollution” is too gentle. It sounds like it’s just a matter of unsightly litter in the woods or on a beach, but plastic pollution is poisoning us and our planet.
How? Well, plastic lasts essentially forever, but, as you know, does slowly break down into microplastics. And those tiny particles are now literally everywhere through winds and currents.
Every day we eat, drink and even breathe those microplastics.
We hear that term a lot, but we don't hear nearly enough about the destruction those microplastics inflict.
The truth is we don’t yet fully know the health effects from microplastics in our environment, but we are certainly starting to see the damage.
We do know that plastics contain and are treated with chemicals that have been linked to cancer, infertility, and neurodevelopmental disorders, among other serious issues.
We do know that microplastics in the soil significantly affect the microorganisms and the soil quality, leading to issues with plant growth.
We do know that every year, millions of animals die from plastic whether it's ingestion, strangulation, or habitat pollution. And researchers are seeing animals with damaged DNA and reproductive organs, causing concern for the long-term survival of those species.
And we do know that plastic pollution is damaging the entire marine food web - perhaps beyond repair.
The permanence of plastic makes it difficult to undo the damage done.
And the magnitude of this pollution is staggering. Worldwide about 8 BILLION tons of plastic waste pollutes our environment. And that number is actually going up, not down. More plastic is being produced, and less is being recycled every year.
And this is just where we stand now. Multiply this, as expected, and the health effects will be dire, the environmental effects potentially catastrophic.
You probably already know all that, but it bears repeating again and again because I think really understanding how dangerous plastic pollution is, how serious the effects are, is how we frame the question, “Why should I care?"
We should all care. A lot.
And when you care about something, you pay attention and you act. And unlike some issues we face, reducing our plastic waste is something we as individuals can do immediately.
Does it matter? Well, the same way that millions of people throwing out their plastic water bottles adds up, reverse that and think about millions of people with empty recycling bins. All the plastic they don’t have to get rid of. It adds up.
Plastic pollution causes death and disease. So treat it that way.
And think about ways you can avoid buying plastic all together, since most plastic isn't and can't be recycled.
Reduce your plastic consumption by being aware, and trying to make alternative purchases if possible. Buy a drink in a glass bottle or aluminum can instead of a plastic bottle; Buy the pasta in a cardboard box instead of a plastic bag; Use beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap; Try zero-waste, plastic-free products like shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets.
Reuse as much as you can to avoid having to buy new.
Refill your containers of personal care and cleaning supplies so you don't have to keep buying plastic bottles.
The way to tackle a huge problem is to just start. We really can make a difference.