Pollution of Plastics

Texas is known for big things: big trucks, big cows, and big guns. Texas is also the second biggest state in the United States of America, housing 21.77 million people, and stretching across 268,596.46 square miles. 7.4 percent of the nation’s total area comes from this massive state. Texas is larger than the 15 smallest states combined. Is there anything bigger in this world than Texas?

It turns out there is something bigger than Texas, but it might not be what you expect. Ranging at around 270,000 square miles, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gyre composed of mostly plastic and chemicals, which is larger than Texas and a few major cities combined.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a shocking visual in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is an area where garbage accumulates. The waves swirl into a water column while the currents move and change with the currents with the wind. Large plastic pieces tumble around in the ocean until they break up into smaller and smaller pieces, creating a sand like substance called microplastics. This pile isn’t what most would imagine; this compilation of microplastics, or small bits of plastic, make up the majority of marine debris.  Since the global population is continuously growing, the amount of plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only getting larger.

One of the reasons this garbage patch exists is because Americans use a copious amount of plastic in their everyday lives. Since plastic is not a biodegradable material, plastics never disappear. Instead, they break down and release toxins that then pollute water and soil. These pollutants go directly into nature, where animals get their food. Many animals think that different plastics are foods to ingest and unintentionally eat plastic bags and microplastics by mistaking them for prey. Consuming plastic bags, for example, can disrupt the digestive process or cause animals to choke. Plastic bags can also clog their digestive tracts, “preventing the absorption of real food, which will in turn causing starvation and illness or death” (Parker 4). A plethora of plastics accrue on ocean floors, contaminating local environments and bringing an endless amount of toxins into the area, which jeopardizes the wellbeing of animals and plants. Plastics in our natural environment are destructive yet lessening the usage of them has a number of easy solutions that can be changed in our day to day lives.

My simplest solution is one that everyone can implement starting today: start using less plastic. Though this may seem like the most unattainable solution, completely abolishing the use of plastic will benefit the environment. One can start by buying meat wrapped in butcher paper instead of plastic containers, and keeping vegetables in reusable bags as opposed to plastic bags. In addition, using reusable utensils or serving finger foods that don’t need utensils can save a large amount of plastic. During gatherings, the trash clean up is composed of countless plastic forks and red solo cups; the clean up process could become easier by simply having foods that don’t require utensils, or by using reusable amenities. After that meal, a simple change from floss pick to floss string could save plastic, on top of using a wooden brush or toothbrush instead of plastic. Finally, using soaps, exfoliators, and nail polish without microbeads would lead to a positive impact on our environment. Microbeads, a type of microplastic, “are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products” or even to toothpastes and cleansers (NOAA). These are included in many health products because they are helpful in scrubbing surfaces. Unfortunately, after being used, they get washed down the drain and end up in the ocean since the particles are too small to be filtered out. These plastic flecks also make up a large amount of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. While cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an enormous task, these are effective changes that consumers can make to reduce the growth of plastic.

In addition to finding ways to diminish the plastic use, switching plastic materials to non-plastic, reusable materials would allow the environment to prosper.  In order to reduce the utilization of plastic in one’s day to day life, environmentally friendly substances will drastically decrease the amount of waste. Bringing reusable bags to stores while shopping lessens the demand for plastic bags. If enough people make the switch entirely from plastic bags to reusable bags, manufacturers will not need to produce these bags any longer. In addition, using reusable bottles or glass jars filled with tap water as opposed to using plastic bottles is a more environmentally conscious way of staying hydrated,. There have been studies that have shown that “Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC, polycarbonate, bisphenol A (BPA) and the chemical phthalates which soften other chemicals” are contained in the flimsy plastic bottles (Creeklife). These chemicals permeate through the plastic covering and into the food or liquid inside of the containers. Though the harmful chemicals are impossible to see with a naked eye, detrimental health effects of these chemicals can include DNA damage to sperm or negative reproductive development in infant males. Zip Top bags can also contain these type of harmful chemicals. Rather than using these one time only bags, a more optimal plan would be to store leftover foods in glass containers to be reused. A common household item for packing food is tupperware. By filling a lunchbox and packing food at home as opposed to buying a ready to eat meal sealed in plastic, not only will be better for the environment and one’s health, but will be better for budgetary reasons. Much more labor goes into the pre-packaging of these meals, which puts a high price on the luncheon. Pre-made lunches tend to have a sectioned plate with individually wrapped parts, such as containers for salad toppings and dressing which only serves to create additional waste. On top of bringing containers for lunch, bringing containers to restaurants and asking servers to pack food for takeout or leftovers can save a monumental amount of plastic from take out containers and bags.

Another reusable plastic that is commonly used is straws. This small plastic can end up in numerous niches of aquatic organisms. In 2015, two researchers posted a video of the extraction of a straw from a turtle’s nostril. This eight minute long video showed the turtle squirming and bleeding as the extractor did his best to remove it carefully. Because certain sea turtle species are endangered, this viral video brought to light the problem with single-use straws. Instead, using stainless steel straws that can be washed after every use poses to be a better alternative. By using reusable materials, the reduction of waste could save the lives of a great deal of animals.

By implementing these changes in day to day lifestyles could drastically lessen the amount of plastic that is used and wasted. Decreasing the amount of plastic we use protects wildlife and most of all, can be budget friendly. Things like the prepackaged lunch and floss pick are much more expensive that the greener alternatives since they use more produce. Also, using certain plastics, like water bottles, is not good for one’s health.

Though these solutions may work, many people may still argue against these claims. Making such a big change from using plastic in majority of our activities to altering to another more eco friendly material could be seen as inconvenient.  Researchers say that “there’s no winning: producing recycled materials uses copious amounts of energy. A better solution would be to reduce use of plastics altogether” (Creeklife). It may be more cost effective to keep what we have, but by increasing the production of non plastic and reusable materials would create jobs for more companies to start manufacturing these products. Though it may seem like there are more cons that outweigh the pros, thinking about the economic benefits outweighs the minor inconveniences.  

Making such a drastic change from a plastic dependent lifestyle to ceasing the use of it entirely is a substantial change. Rather than using standard plastic utensils and plates, it would be best to use biodegradable materials. Though these materials may never be as cheap as plastic, they serve the same purpose while also being environmentally conscious. In addition, all of these changes do not need to be implemented immediately, as a gradual change into a more environmentally friendly lifestyle would be more realistic.

Plastic is one of the most popular substances seen used in nearly every inch of the world. Using reusable, non-plastic materials, bringing containers from home, and stopping the use of plastic can make an advancement towards a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. With the implementation of these solutions, I believe that the smallest changes that the people make can change the world for the better. But ultimately the change that we have to make is one in our minds: we have to realize that plastic is a terrible problem and that we must deal with it.

 

Works Cited

Creeklife. Six Reasons Why Plastic Is Bad For The Environment. Articles of the Environment. 30 Dec., 2013. www.creeklife.com/blog/six-reasons-why-plastic-is-bad-for-the-environment/ Accessed 3 Feb, 2018.

NOAA. Historical Maps and Charts audio podcast. National Ocean Service website, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast/july17/nop08-historical-maps-charts.html, accessed on 8/13/17.

Parker, Dianna. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. National Ocean Service, 15 Feb. 2018,

www.oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast/june14/mw126-garbagepatch.html. Accessed 15 Feb. 2018.

Solomon, Dan. How Big is Texas Compared to other Land masses? Texas Monthly. 14 Jan, 2015.

http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/how-big-is-texas-compared-to-other-land-masses/

UKonserve. How Straws Affect Animals and the Environment. 23 September, 2016. https://blog.ukonserve.com/2016/09/23/straws-enviornment/. Accessed 10 Feb. 2018.

 

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Pollution of Plastics

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