Plastic Pollution: Bane of the Planet?

Plastics – the generic term for a range of around 70,000 different synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds based primarily on carbon and hydrogen atoms – were hailed as the wonder materials of the late 20th Century.   Waterproof and resilient, the key to the success of plastics is their resistance to water and natural decomposition, and it is that very factor which is now causing so much consternation.  

Plastics can be broken down by mechanical actions in the environment or may be introduced as very small particles anyway such as microbeads in cleansers, and those particles are now finding their way into the food chain.  The prognosis isn’t good but, luckily, we are quickly waking up to the fact and it’s not too late to do something about the plastic particle mire in which we find ourselves sinking.

What’s the Problem?

Plastic pollution is defined in two levels; macro (larger than 5mm) and micro (smaller than 5mm), and both are significant issues in their own way. 

Macro Pollution.  Aside from crisp packets in hedgerows, much of the world’s macro-plastic pollution congregates – eventually – in the oceans.  There are five recognised ‘plastic islands’ around the world, each one centred on one of the oceanic gyre’s of rotating currents.  By getting caught up in these swirling eddies of water, the rubbish becomes trapped and grow as more debris joins it.  The esteemed 5 Gyres Institute estimate that each these areas contain at least 5.25 trillion particles of plastic pollution, weighing as much as 270,000 tons, and that the total weight of plastic pollution in the oceans is close to 5.6 million tones!

Micro pollution. Plastic pollution of this smaller size comes from two main sources – broken down macro pollution and microbeads from cleaning products.  This level of pollution is more alarming than macro pollution as it is not only more difficult to clean up but is small enough to be able to enter the food chain and become lodged in our systems.  The long-term effects of there are unknown but given how badly our bodies respond to foreign material, the prognosis isn’t good.

Making It Better.

We have done a huge amount of damage to the planet, but its not too late to do something about it and reclaim it, along with our kidneys and livers.  The Secretary of State for the Environment has announced details of commitment to bring back bottle deposits to help curb oceanic plastic pollution, and that is likely to have a significant impact on plastic pollution, but the real key is to use less.  And here’s how:

  • Don’t use non-recyclable plastics.  If it doesn’t have a recycle sign, don’t buy or use it.
  • Boycott microbead products.
  • Buy in bulk to reduce overall packaging.
  • Refill plastic water bottles rather than buying new.
  • Home cook – reduce the amount of packaging used for ready meals.
  • Get your coffee chain to make your beverage in a travel mug, that you happen to have with you, rather than another one of their disposable cups.

Once seen as essential materials, many plastics cannot be recycled and we need to break our dependency on them if we are ever likely to return the planet to the state that we want it to be in.  Deposits on plastic bottles is a good start, but we need to do more to even stem the build up of these harmful materials.

Taken from the May 2018 issue of Geek Parenting, out now!

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