Nearly every food product we buy...
Take a look around you- most of what we eat, drink, or use in any way comes packaged in petroleum plastic- a material designed to last forever, yet used for products that we then throw away. This throwaway mentality is a relatively recent phenomenon. Just a generation ago, we packaged our products in reusable or recyclable materials – glass, metals, and paper, and designed products that would last. Today, our landfills and beaches are awash in plastic packaging, and expendable products that have no value at the end of their short lifecycle.
The short-term convenience of using and throwing away plastic products carries a very inconvenient long-term truth. These plastic water bottles, cups, utensils, electronics, toys, and gadgets we dispose of daily are rarely recycled in a closed loop. We currently recover only 5% of the plastics we produce. What happens to the rest of it? Roughly 50% is buried in landfills, some is remade into durable goods, and much of it remains “unaccounted for”, lost in the environment where it ultimately washes out to sea.
Around the world, plastic pollution
Around the world, plastic pollution has become a growing plague, clogging our waterways, damaging marine ecosystems, and entering the marine food web. Much of the plastic trash we generate on land flows into our oceans through storm drains and watersheds. It falls from garbage and container trucks, spills out of trashcans, or is tossed carelessly.
In the ocean, some of these plastics- Polycarbonate, Polystrene, and PETE- sink, while LDPE, HDPE, Polypropylene, and foamed plastics float on the oceans surface. Sunlight and wave action cause these floating plastics to fragment, breaking into increasingly smaller particles, but never completely disappearing- at least on any documented time scale. This plastic pollution is becoming a hazard for marine wildlife, and ultimately for us.
44% of all seabird species, 22% of...
Cetaceans, all sea turtle species, and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies (link to meta analysis). When marine animals consume plastic trash, presumably mistaking it for food, this can lead to internal blockages, dehydration, starvation, and potentially death. (cite?)
Also of deep concern for societies are the potential human health impacts of toxic chemicals entering the marine food chain through plastics. Science is beginning to ask the question: do chemicals such as PCBs and DDTs that sorb onto plastic pellets get into the tissues and blood of the animals that eat plastic? Do these chemicals work their way up the food chain, becoming increasingly concentrated and potentially entering our bodies when we eat seafood?