Plastic pollution seems like such an overwhelming problem. What can I do?
Here’s what we know: Plastics, when they get thrown away, stick around for a very, very, very long time. And we throw away a lot of plastic. According to a recent World Economic Forum report, there are an estimated 342 million tons of plastic produced every year. And at least 89 million tons of that is packaging (like packing pellets or, well, anything that’s wrapped around your groceries). The vast majority of that packaging gets thrown away after a single use. In other words, roughly a quarter of all plastic produced becomes waste after it’s used once.
A whole bunch of that waste ends up in the ocean, whether it floats out to sea from landfills or from sewers into waterways or it’s dumped in directly. It’s impossible to accurately say how much is in the ocean — it’s massive, and there’s plastic sprinkled all throughout it, even a thousand miles from the nearest human. Among the information that is likely troubling you are recent reports that there’s plastic in nearly every oyster, turtle, and whale in the sea.
I recently wrote about how the ubiquitous sprinkling of plastic across the Earth is likely leaching disruptive chemicals and carrying harmful pollutants into ecosystems and food chains, where they have the potential to eventually impact human health. And while plastic decomposes, it never really disappears — its various components persist for a very, very long time.
But while plastic pollution is such a massive-scale problem, it’s actually easier to conceptualize than a crisis like, say, climate change. You touch plastic every day, after all. You understand where it comes from.
Thus, you can start to understand what has to change: say, using less plastic in the first place. That starts with how we consume, and the businesses we buy from.
“But Umbra,” you might say. “It shouldn’t all be on ME to save the plastic problem!”
You’re totally right, and furthermore, you’d never be able to do it alone. There is a litany of companies pushing plastic into our lives. Both the chemical and oil industry benefit from lots and lots of plastics out in the world because, well, they require a lot of chemical engineering and oil to produce. In fact, as fossil fuels become more and more passé, petrochemical companies are increasingly looking to plastic production as their future. When those powerful sectors share a common goal, that translates to a lot of money and a lot of purchased political power to push more and more plastic onto the market.
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