The Plastic Plague

A reusable water bottle a day keeps environmental destruction away!

Plastic has become a commonality in all of our daily lives, whether we realize it or not, in the form of bottles, bags, boxes, and so-called “reusable” containers. Due to this, our lives have been infected with what is known as the "plastic plague." 

Plastic has become a commonality in all of our daily lives, whether we realize it or not, in the form of bottles, bags, boxes, and so-called “reusable” containers. Due to this, our lives have been infected with what is known as the “plastic plague.” 

Think of a time when you made yourself a packed lunch for work or when you fixed a snack for your child to eat at school; what kind of container did you use? When is the last time your packed food did not involve a plastic product that would end up in the trash later?

Now, think about how you disposed of that plastic. Did you recycle it? Throw it away with the rest of your trash? Or did you nonchalantly toss it out of your car window on your afternoon commute?

The reality is that plastic has been such an innate and essential part of our lives for so many decades that we simply do not know how to live without it. How do I carry around my water or coffee? What about my potato chips that I want to snack on in class? We have long reached a point in which we cannot imagine a plastic-free life because we have been accustomed to its convenience and availability.

Today, we are producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic a year, half of which only manage a single use before disposal. Although plastic is a cheap and versatile product, making it incredibly convenient for our increasingly fast-paced lives, the time we save in minutes using plastic products equates to a huge environmental cost.

In the ocean, plastic debris continues to injure and kill fish, seabirds and marine mammals at alarming rates as more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year. Marine plastic pollution has impacted at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species. The impacts affect marine life with ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement.

Here’s a shocking piece of evidence of our plastic problem: in 2010, a California grey whale washed up dead on the shores of the Puget Sound. Autopsies of the whale indicated that its stomach contained a pair of pants, a golf ball, more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, duct tape, and surgical gloves. This is not a rare occurrence; every year, thousands of marine life end up washed up on shores because of ingestion of plastic and trash similar to this case. And every year, our plastic problem continues to escalate.

To give you some perspective on just how much plastic we go through as a people, here’s some statistics released from plasticoceans.org:

  • Annually, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide and more than one million bags are used every minute.
  • According to the Container Recycling Institute, 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2014, or 315 bottles per person.
  • The process of producing bottled water requires around 6 times as much water per bottle as there is in the container.
  • 14 percent of all litter comes from beverage containers and the number is higher when caps and labels are considered.

However, before we can solve the actual problem, we must address its roots.

The origin of our plastic plague can be found in the rapid and constantly moving pace of our lives; we have become accustomed to convenience are therefore need a material that is readily available and will efficiently package our necessities for us. Due to this “need for speed,” we have neglected to consider the dire consequences of our actions. Especially with all the horrors facing our marine life, there is much to be done by us as an integral component in the well-being of our planet’s ecosystems.

Firstly, cut down on your use of plastic. Ever heard of the reusable water bottle? Well, it’s time to get one and use it. It cuts down immensely on the amount of plastic that ends up in our landfills and oceans, and eventually, in the stomachs of our marine animals. Secondly, stop asking for paper or plastic at your grocery stores. Buy some reusable bags from the dollar store and start using them for groceries — the minor initial cost is offset by the marine life that will be saved because of it.

While these are minor actions, the major (and most difficult) step we all need to take is to ultimately stop buying plastic in totality. One of the main reasons why plastic pollution continues to be a problem is because companies keep making it. The more we buy plastic, the more plastic companies, like Zephyrhills and Dow Chemical, will continue to produce it. The sooner we all find the willpower and discipline within ourselves to change our ways and cut off our plastic habit, the better off our animals, our oceans, and our planet will be.  

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