By Moss Pelvin | Posted: Thursday August 20, 2020
Plastic is an integral problem in our society.
It is everywhere, no matter where you go, you see plastic. There is no doubt plastic is a very useful commodity: easy to manufacture, easy to shape and easy to use. But it’s also easy to throw away. And that’s the problem.
We as a planet produce over 300 million tons of plastic every year, and over 50% of that 300 million tons is single use. Single use plastics, such as gladwrap and food packaging are simply thrown away, either into a landfill or into the ocean.
But what are the main issues with plastic, and what can we do to reduce them?
Plastic is a synthetic polymer made from petroleum: an organic material. Because it’s a polymer, the molecules are long and bonded strongly together. This makes plastic durable. But just because it comes from organic materials doesn’t mean it can biodegrade. The plastics we use on a daily basis will take an average of 1000 years to decompose. This means that the plastics we put into landfills will remain in the environment for centuries, and that chip packet thrown into the trash last Wednesday will likely be there for another twelve lifetimes. Moreover, they break down into tiny pieces of plastic, microplastics, that easily escape and can drift into our oceans. At least 8 million tons of the stuff ends up in our oceans each year.
Plastics are often bright colours, and this causes animals such as whales and turtles to think it’s jellyfish and try to eat it. As plastic is so durable, they can’t digest it and the animal starves. Plastic pollution in oceans is a major problem.
Not only does plastic get into our oceans, it has been identified in our drinking taps and waterways. Some of the chemicals used to manufacture plastic are known carcinogens when ingested, so pose a risk to humans as well as marine life.
But what can we do?
Firstly, the best step to take is to reduce the amount of plastic you buy. There’s no need to purchase a cucumber wrapped four times in one use wrap when you can buy it loose. It can easily be washed to remove any risk of contamination. Buy your pies and baking in paper bags, not plastic packets. That’ll be one less piece of wrapping lasting for 12 more lifetimes. Bring your own bags to the supermarket, this is a step that’s already being implemented for you.
Secondly, choose to reuse containers. This is such a simple and logical move. There is no point in buying a one use plastic bottle or container for your lunch when you can bring your own. Sure it’s a tiny bit of extra work to wash it but in the long term reusable containers will improve the environment. Don’t wrap your sandwiches and lunches in plastic, use recycled paper bags. Buy yourself a ‘Keep Cup’ so you don’t need to get a plastic, polystyrene or non-recyclable mug at cafes and stores. Nearly all establishments will accept Keep Cups and your own containers for food.
Thirdly, buying biodegradable plastics. There are many companies in Dunedin who sell bioplastics, or plastic like substances that can be put into a landfill and will easily biodegrade. Many shops around Dunedin sell sustainable and reusable products, such as Taste Nature. You can find many fantastic sustainably-made products at ecowarehouse.nz.
Plastic pollution is a real problem in our modern environment, but it’s a problem we can all take steps towards minimising. We all need to start making the right choices as to what we buy, so our waste doesn’t become the problem of all the generations to come.