Our production of and dependence on plastic has multiplied exponentially over the last century

It is well-known that plastics are among the leading causes of pollution worldwide. Whether it be through water, land, or air, plastics can negatively affect people in all sorts of ways everywhere. Now a team of international scientists have put together a comprehensive report that goes deep into the matter, and shows exactly why – despite all of their many benefits – plastics have become such a menace. They also recommend a number of ways to fix the problem.

Plastics owe their ubiquity to the fact that they are a highly versatile material that can be used to manufacture all sorts of gadgets, devices, and trinkets. From the newest smartphones and computers to a wide variety of storage containers, plastic has proven to be a reliable choice for all levels of makers and builders. But the synthetic material has had a noticeable impact on both the environment and on human health over the many years that it has been in use. This is brought up as the main focus of the report, which is said to be the first comprehensive review of its kind. The main idea is basically this: The more plastic is used, the more harm it causes to life in general.

According to David Barnes, a researcher for the British Antarctic Survey and the lead author of the study, plastic has caused a number of problems. In particular, he said, “One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics.” His opinion was just one among many in the report, which was published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B.

Ever since it was first mass produced more than 70 years ago, plastic has come a long way. It is said that more than 300 million tons of it will be produced worldwide in the next 12 months. At today’s rate of production, it is estimated that there will be more plastic manufactured during the first 10 years of the current century compared to what was manufactured for the entirety of the last century.

One of the biggest problems with the use of plastics, according to the report’s lead editor Richard Thompson, is the apparent misuse of it as a building and construction material. “Plastics are very long-lived products that could potentially have service over decades,” he explained, “and yet our main use of these lightweight, inexpensive materials are as single-use items that will go to the garbage dump within a year, where they’ll persist for centuries.” Here, of course, he is referring to the fact that the most common forms of plastic that people encounter on a daily basis are plastic bags, utensils, and plastic containers that are meant to be simply chucked out into garbage bins after use.

With better planning and implementation, the world wouldn’t be suffering from so much plastic, according to the researchers. What’s worse is that there is said to be mounting evidence that the chemical building blocks that allow plastic to have the versatility that it has are harmful in certain ways, not just to the environment but to humans as well. They enumerated a few examples of how plastic production and disposal can be harmful, such as:

  • Chemicals from plastic get absorbed by the human body, and they end up altering hormones and cause other unforeseen effects.
  • Plastic that is buried deep in landfills can lead to chemicals spreading into groundwater.
  • Floating plastic waste in bodies of water can remain afloat for literally thousands of years, and tend to disrupt habitats.
  • Plastic debris laced with chemicals can be ingested by sea creatures, leading to their demise.

Short of stopping the use of plastics entirely, the authors recommend a major shift in the way humans think about and apply plastic in their daily lives. It’s vital to learn exactly how to harness plastics wisely if they are ever going to be helpful in the quest to make the Earth a better place for everyone.

Read more about how plastic destroys the planet in Pollution.news.

Sources include:

EHN.org

RSTB.RoyalSocietyPublishing.org

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