With reports saying by 2050 oceans could contain more plastics than fish, what can we do to reduce our plastic footprint…
If you take a look around your home or office, there is a good chance you’ll find plastic. If you’re reading this on a computer or mobile device then you’re closer to plastic than you might think, as the synthetic material makes up 17% of electronics!
Born out of a request by a New York firm in 1869 to find a substitute for ivory in billiard balls, the first synthetic plastic was invented John Wesley Hyatt. Using cellulose, an organic compound derived from cotton fibre, the American inventor created a plastic which could imitate natural substances like tortoiseshell, horn, linen, and ivory.
Jump forward to 1907 to Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland and his invention of Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature.
Both Hyatt’s and Baekeland’s plastic products led major chemical companies to invest in the research and development of new polymers.
Using non-renewable natural resources such as crude oil, gas and coal, it wasn’t until after the Great Depression and World War II, when plastic production increased at a fast rate.
Soon consumers were seeing plastics take the place of steel in cars, wood in furniture and paper and glass in packaging.
The modern lightweight shopping bag was the creation of Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin in the late 60’s. Made from ethylene, a gas that is produced as a by-product of oil, gas and coal production, the common plastic shopping bag was inexpensive to make and durable. Whilst some people see it as the convenient option there is a bad side, it is slow to degrade with estimates ranging from 20 to 1000 years!
Fast forward to today, where Australians go through, on-average, about 60kg of plastic per person per year!
A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that given the projected growth in plastic production, use and improper disposal of plastic may result in oceans containing more plastics than fish by 2050!
So the big question is, how well do we dispose and recycle plastic to make sure our oceans are full of fish and not rubbish!?
Every year, about 100 million tons of plastic are produced all over the world. Out of this, 25 million tons of non- degradable plastic gets accumulated in the environment. This plastic has led to harmful plastic pollution, when plastic waste has begun to negatively impact the natural environment, killing plant life and posing dangers to local animals and even the human population.
As plastic is created to last, it is nearly impossible to break down and burning plastic can be incredibly toxic. When disposed of in landfill sites, plastic does not decompose at a fast rate, and can pollute the land or soil around its area. It can interact with water to form hazardous chemicals, which in turn can degrade water quality.
Plus, plastic debris is often ingested by marine animals, causing death due to suffocation, stomach and intestine related diseases. Around 100,000 animals, such as dolphins, turtles, whales, penguins are killed every year due to improper plastic disposal.
As an inexpensive solution for many products, plastic has made a big impact on how we live our lives. But with its negative effects on the planet, what preventive measures can we use to reduce the type of pollution this synthetic comes with? Let’s start with single use plastic bags!
Australians dump 7,150 plastic bags into landfills every minute of every day! That’s a lot of pollution in our land and soil areas! To help reduce this start using paper or cloth bags for shopping and other purposes as much as possible, and avoid bringing plastic bags home.
If you live in South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory or ACT, good for you, as you guys have already put successful plastic bag bans in place and they are working! In the first six months into the introduction of the South Australian plastic bag ban in 2013, approximately 200 million plastic bags were stopped from entering landfill. Awesome!
With Grocery giants Woolworths and Coles both working on phasing out single use plastic bags throughout their stores, change is happening. But what about other states and stores? Well if you want to see an end to the use of single use plastic bags in your state, head on over to our friends at Greenpeace and sign their petition to ban the bag in:
Another big single use plastic causing environmental tissues is the plastic bottle. According to a report from the Guardian, a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute! Mostly made from highly recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), fewer than half of all plastic bottles are collected for recycling!
With the majority of plastic bottles used across the globe for drinking water, we can help reduce our plastic footprint by using a refillable water bottle and carry it with you whenever you can, ask tap water instead of bottles water in restaurants and to keep a water jug at home for all your aqua needs!