As the world’s population continues to grow so does the amount of garbage people produce, which is something that has been a menace to the world for decades. However, in the past few years it seems like momentum has been building on the issue of plastic waste and its effect on the environment.
Around the world already dozens of countries have banned the use of plastic bags. Across Europe, new laws and policies are either being proposed or enforced, from plastic bottle deposit and return schemes, bans and charges on one time use plastic bags, to curtailing non compostable plastic cups, plates and cutlery. However will these proposals be enough, will they cause the change that is needed to save the world from plastic?
The negative impact plastic has on the world’s ecosystem is evident, and has been so since the first day it was invented in 1907. Just last year, in the series, ‘Blue Planet’, David Attenborough showed his viewers footage of plastic clogged oceans and the detrimental effect that it is having on marine life and left the UK in shock. Even industry bodies recognise that plastic waste is a pressing issue in the world at the moment and want to see more recycling and sustainable use of plastic.
Plastic pollution is caused by many factors, the biggest one being the use of plastic bags. Every year around 800 billion plastic bags are distributed all around the world, using almost 10 percent of the whole world’s annual oil supply. Meaning that not only is it a non-sustainable process, as they are made with fossil fuels, but also the pollution created by the transportation of plastic bags to stores all around the world adds harmful gases such as CO2 to the earth’s atmosphere, which in turn causes even more global warming.
Furthermore, the disposal of plastic bags leads to countless other problems including the destruction of both terrestrial and marine environments, the killing of millions of birds and sea animals and even more pollution.
Some say that the solution to all of these problems is recycling, that this would both prevent all of the harm produced by the disposals of plastic bags and all of the harm created by using fossil fuels, as the same material would be used and the amount of new plastic needed would be minimal compared to the massive quantities used at the moment. However, only 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled. And the whole world has been warned multiple times of the catastrophic effects plastic is having in the world and yet very few people recycle clearly showing that it is not a viable solution.
The rest are thrown to rot in landfills, to burn in landfills or are disposed of in unethical ways such as throwing them in the sea. Landfills are extremely harmful to the environment, and most of them are filled with plastic waste. The biggest landfill in the UK covers 380 acres of former grassland and contains over 19 million tonnes of waste. This grassland could perfectly be used to farm or as an area for animals to inhabit. However when burning plastic, many malicious gases are released, which once again not only results in more global warming, but also means that neither animals or humans are able to live in the surroundings.
Many say that these landfills cause no harm as after they are full, they are covered by a non permeable layer of clay or plastic, followed by a layer of soil, in which grass will be planted. However, this is not a feasible solution either as during the time the plastic rots, which lasts around 1000 years, methane gas is released which is one of the main and most harmful gases that contribute green house gases. This could be solved by implanting pipes 15 kilometre underground which would siphon the methane out and use it to generate electricity. However, the process of burning methane to generate energy releases even more greenhouse gases meaning the whatever the process is, it will contribute to one of the most, if not the most, cataclysmic problems the world is facing.
In addition, all of the plastic thrown into the sea by either normal citizens, or illegally by waste management companies, causes unimaginable damage to the sea. Most of the plastic in the sea has gathered up in the Pacific Ocean into a massive plastic island known as the Pacific Garbage Patch. This patch covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometres, 6 and a half times the size of the UK. This plastic island is the cause of the death of over 1 million birds and 100,000 marine animals.
Sea turtles, like many other marine animals such as seabirds fish or sea lions, mistake plastic for food, which obviously leads to them trying to eat it. Most of the time the plastic gets caught in their throat or their stomachs are not able to digest it leading to their deaths. Additionally, billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that make up about 40 percent of the world's ocean surfaces. In this plastic thousands of animals, such as endangered turtles, get caught, leaving them defenceless and unable to eat which once again kills them. What is more, a study claims that at current rates plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.
In conclusion, plastic should be banned, not only because it is harmful for animals and humans in the long run, but also because it is something unnecessary in the daily life of a human, something that can be replaced. How many times have you seen someone throw a plastic bags or plastic water bottles on the floor in your life time? I personally have witnessed it hundreds of times, so surely something which is so unimportant that you throw on the floor is not necessary for humanity. So are you really wiling to kill millions of animals annually, destroy marine life and help ruin our environment for plastic?
By Stefan L, Year 12