Introduction to Plastics:
We use plastics in our daily lives, so we may not always consider the problems that plastic causes. Plastic is one of the main contributors to pollution. We produce around 380 million tons of plastic annually (1). Most of the plastic used is expendable – meaning that it is used once then discarded. A relevant example of this is plastic spoons, knives, and other utensils, which are intended for single-use. The amount of plastic not being recycled is diminishing the space in our landfills. Moreover, some of the plastic may end up in the ocean, posing a major hazard for marine life. Unlike biodegradable materials, plastic lasts in the environment for hundreds of years. The incessant and unnecessary production of plastic is rendering our ecosystem less sustainable for humans and marine life.
Production of Plastics:
Plastic is made from raw materials like natural gas and oil, which are then created into ethane and propane (2). Ethane and propane undergo a process of polymerization to create the building blocks of plastics. Most of the plastic produced are created with fossil fuels. The extraction and processing of fossil fuels plays a significant role in global warming and carbon emissions. The production of plastic itself causes irrevocable damage to our environment. As a result, pervasive plastic production exacerbates current global environmental issues, such as climate change.
Over the years, the plastic production has increased substantially, from 1.5 million tons to an estimated 367 million tons in 2020 (3). Although the production of plastic is imperative for all those who use plastics on daily basis, its consequences overshadow its benefits. The production of plastic is tedious and also depletes natural, non-renewable resources. Additionally, these materials are extracted through hydraulic fracking, which has an adverse impact on the environment and also the health of those who are doing it. Hydraulic fracking the process of injecting liquid at a higher pressure into the Earth in order to obtain gas and oil from the ground. Fracking poisons groundwater and surface water and harms wildlife (4). Fracking uses many toxic chemicals, which can be released into the air if there is a leakage. Some of the toxics used in fracking, like benzene and toluene, are known to cause cancer and other respiratory issues (4). Additionally, the government does not require drilling companies to disclose which fracking liquids are used, adding to concerns regarding potential environmental and health risks (4).
Fracking uses non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels, which increases our dependence on these resources. The more plastic we use, the more plastic that needs to be produced. This causes a cycle of fracking, which depletes non-renewable resources and harms not only water and air quality, but also the health of numerous people.
Overall, we all use plastic for myriad purposes and we often ignore the environmental and health risks it causes. The production of plastic itself causes many environmental and health problems. Even worse, the production of plastic has increased enormously. We can reduce the rate of plastic production by limiting the amount of plastic we use.
What can we do?:
We are all taught from an early age to recycle. Recycling is one of the easiest ways for anyone to help create a more sustainable environment for current and future generations. Despite this, many people choose not to recycle. In fact, the recycling rate in the US was 32% and, globally, only 9% of waste is recycled (5). The efforts to manage plastic production will be rendered obsolete if most of the plastic ends up in the ocean or in landfills. It is extremely important to recycle plastics since they can be reused and, therefore, can lessen the need to produce more plastic. Recycling plastic makes space in the landfill, preserves natural resources, and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. Hence, the easiest way for us all to help the environment is to recycle.
By recycling and limiting the amount of plastic we use, we can pave a more sustainable future for ourselves and upcoming generations. Addressing the global plastic problem requires a unified effort to limit plastic use, publicize recycling initiatives, and develop eco-friendly alternatives. We must reduce our reliance on non-renewable materials and promote the usage of biodegradable resources. Raising awareness about the repercussions of plastic pollution is vital for creating a sense of responsibility among industries, governments, and those around us. However, this can only be achieved if we work together and have the motivation to preserve our planet.
Synoracki, Olivia. “How Plastic Is Made Fuels a Toxic Waste Problem.” Conservation Law Foundation, 8 Sept. 2022, www.clf.org/blog/how-plastic-is-made/#gsc.tab=0.
“The Truth about Fracking and the Environment.” The Wilderness Society, www.wilderness.org/news/article/truth-about-fracking-and-environment Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.
Trvst. “Why Do People Not Recycle?” TRVST, 21 Oct. 2023, www.trvst.world/waste-recycling/why-do-people-not-recycle Accessed Dec 19, 2023.