Plastic pollution is today’s one of the most critical issues the environment faces. It has shown severe effects on wild life as well. Knowing about plastics, their chemistry and solutions to plastic pollution as well as learning the importance of the prevention of plastic usage directly help to save the environment from plastic pollution.
What is Plastic?
Plastic is a polymeric substance. It is a substance whose molecules are very large, frequently resembling long chains consisting of an almost infinite sequence of intertwined links. There are plenty of natural polymers such as rubber and silk, but the “plastic” is an artificial/synthetic polymer. Plastics are popular among people because of their high flexibility. Today, however, the average user experiences everyday interaction with all sorts of plastic products. These plastics have a unique design to counteract natural cycles of decay with products extracted predominantly from the petroleum industry, which have the ability to be molded, assembled, spun, or added as a coating.
Because synthetic plastics are essentially non-biodegradable, in natural conditions, they continue to survive. By comparison, many lightweight single-use plastic items and packaging materials are not stored in containers for eventual disposal to landfills, recycling centers, or incinerators. Hence these are accounting for about 50 percent of all plastics produced. Instead, people poorly dispose of them where the product ends its’ usefulness. Dropped on the street, tossed out of a car window, hoisted into an already overflowing garbage bin, or unintentionally swept off by a gust of wind, they inevitably start polluting the atmosphere. Some of these items, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, have a lifetime of just minutes or hours but can survive for hundreds of years in the world. In reality, in many parts of the world, environments polluted with plastic packaging have become popular.
Plastic pollution has become one of the most critical environmental problems because the rapidly growing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them, hence the world is trying many solutions to plastic pollution. This waste is especially evident in emerging Asian and African nations, where there are less garbage collecting and recycling centres. But the developing world still has trouble properly collecting discarded plastics, particularly in countries with low recycling levels. Creation and production of thousands of new plastic products exploded after World War II, and the change of the industrial age would have been unrecognizable today without plastics.
Nevertheless, the conveniences plastics offered led to a throw-away mentality unveiling the dark side of the material: Statistics from across the world have found that no nation or ethnic group is the most responsible. At the same time, urban centres generate the most waste. Plastics have a poor recycling time relative to materials widely found in the first half of the 20th century, such as steel, paper, copper, and aluminium. In other words, they are relatively inefficient in reusing as recycled scrap in the manufacturing process because there are significant processing difficulties such as a low fusion point, which prevents pollutants from driven further during heating and reprocessing.
Marine Plastic Pollution
Much of the ocean’s plastic waste comes from land. Large rivers, which serve as conveyor belts, also take the garbage to shore, taking up more and more litter as they pass downstream. When at the shore, there’s more plastic waste left in coastal waters. Yet if it gets trapped in ocean waves, it can travel worldwide. When at sea, the action of air, wind and tide breaks plastic waste into microscopic fragments, sometimes less than one-fifth of an inch long. Such so-called microplastics are distributed across the water column and were contained in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest point to the lowest trough, the Mariana Trench. Microplastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces even further. Meanwhile, plastic microfibers have been found in reserves of municipal drinking water and flowing in the soil.
Every year contaminants destroy millions of animals, from birds and fish and to other aquatic species. Nearly 700 animals are known to have been harmed by plastics, including the endangered ones. Plastic pollution has the most direct effect of imprisoning animals in nets or large debris. It is a major cause of mortality of marine mammals, tortoises, and birds. Almost every seabird species eats plastics. Many of the animal deaths occur due to malnutrition or entanglement. Seals, sharks, tortoises, and other species get strangled by abandoned fishing equipment or discarded six-pack rings.
Bad Impact of Plastic Pollution on Wild Life
Researchers found microplastics in more than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp and moulds intended for our dinner dishes. For certain instances, these small bits pass through the digestive tract and without effect they come out as well. Yet researchers found that plastics can damage digestive tracts or perforated tissues, causing death. Stomachs overfilled with plastics reduce the desire to feed and induce hunger. Land-based animals, including lions, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, goats, and other large mammals, have eaten plastics, in some cases causing death. Tests have also reported damage to the liver and cells and changes of reproductive processes, causing certain animals to produce fewer larvae, such as oysters. Considering all the above, it is inevitable that plastic pollution is lethal to nature. Hence we shall prevent it.
Solutions to Plastic Pollution
Plastic pollution is preventable if we pay closer attention. Things to do to prevent plastic pollution are quite easy and create a win-win situation. All these solutions help not only to prevent plastic pollution but also to save some more money. Here are several solutions to prevent plastic pollution.
10 Ways to Reduce Plastic Pollution
- Bring your own recycled shopping bag.
- Bring non-plastic or cloth bags into the stores, and stop using plastic bags for single use.
- Hold your own reusable cup of coffee as you head out to get drinks. You could use glass or bamboo instead of wasteful plastic ones.
- Instead of buying water in plastic bottles, invest in a water tank and reusable water bottles, so that you can save some money as well.
- Create your own reversible t-shirt bags, use simple sewing skills or no sewing at all.
- Instead of microfibers and other synthetic fabrics, choose clothing and other personal items made from eco-friendly materials that do not pollute the water.
- Using plant-based products instead of plastic products are always beneficial for the environment and the user both.
- When poorly handled, plastic can cause contamination. But it also has several benefits, such as being durable. So, several plastic objects are reusable or have the ability to utilize for different purposes. It is necessary to understand whether they’re reusable before dumping the plastic objects into the environment.
- Plastic recycling consists of storing and reprocessing plastic waste into new items to reduce the volume of plastic in the waste stream.
- Providing training and education is another essential tool for increasing awareness and behavioral improvement.
Erandi Ranasinghe – Chemist