What’s the deal with plastic?

From carrier bags to water bottles to straws, we’re constantly being told to cut back on our plastic usage. Plastic, once heralded for its inexpensiveness and versatility, is now public enemy number one when it comes to eco-friendliness. It’s found in so many different things – from packaging, to clothing, to things you don’t even think are plastic like cartons and paper clips – which makes cutting back using it surprisingly difficult. It’s easy to use a plastic product without even realising. So why is plastic so bad?

 

Plastic’s made from petroleum

The vast majority of plastics are derived from petrochemicals – a.k.a. chemicals derived from petroleum. This means that plastic production heavily relies on fossil fuels, which we know contribute to staggering greenhouse gas emissions and consequent climate change.

 

Irresponsible disposal harms wildlife

When plastic products aren’t disposed of correctly, they pose a threat to animals. This is because plastic products take a long time to decompose (a plastic bag can take between 10 and 1,000 years, whereas a bottle takes around 450) which means they’re hanging around in animal habitats for a very long time. It’s easy for small animals to get their heads stuck in yokes of canned drinks, or wrapped up in a plastic carrier bag.

 

It’s harming the oceans

Marine life are equally affected by plastic. An episode of Blue Planet II last year caused huge uproar after featuring a whale whose milk had been contaminated after she’d consumed plastic and inadvertently poisoned her calf. It’s not just littering that is harming the oceans, though. Washing clothes made from plastic sheds microscopic plastic fibres into the water, which eventually will end up in the ocean too.

 

It’s potentially harmful for us too

Did you know that the expiry date on bottled water isn’t for the water itself, but for the plastic bottle? This is because, eventually, chemicals from the plastic will leach into the water. Although this generally isn’t thought to be harmful (unless your bottle is exposed to heat for an extended period of time, like if it’s sat in your car for months), this can affect the taste of the water. There are also some concerns about repeated exposure to the chemicals in plastic (for example, BPA), although research has proved inconclusive as to whether these chemicals are harmful to humans or not.

 

We’re pretty awful at recycling it

Research has shown that only 9% of plastic worldwide is recycled. Recycling plastic is surprisingly complicated, especially when more than one kind of plastic is included in an item. Whether or not something can be recycled depends heavily upon what resources a local recycling facility has. You can check what’s recyclable where you live using RecycleNow’s checker.

 

Cutting back on plastic use doesn’t have to be hard; common sense things like bringing a reusable water bottle or coffee cup with you, or declining straws or plastic carrier bags, are all really effective methods for cutting back your plastic consumption. Things like buying in bulk, choosing loose over packaged vegetables at the supermarket, and even avoiding purchasing or over-washing acrylic clothing can also help. You don’t need to make drastic changes, but being mindful as to when you’re using plastic can really help reduce your burden on environment.