Breaking Down the Plastic Pollution Crisis

Breaking Down the Plastic Pollution Crisis

Plastic is everywhere — even in places you might not expect. It coats paper coffee cups, lines your microwave popcorn bag, and lurks in your tea bags and laundry detergent. It feels unavoidable, right? Luckily, some companies are finding solutions to our planet’s plastic problem, a.k.a. going plastic free. At SaltyLama, our eco-friendly laundry strips come in plastic-free, biodegradable packaging because our mission is to bring you products that are better for your body without polluting the planet in the process. 

The key to making positive changes is first having the knowledge to know why to do better. Want to know why being plastic free is so important to us? Here are some significant facts on the impact of plastic on the environment. 

Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down 

A lot of plastic is biodegradable, but most take up to 450 years to break down in a landfill. That’s because, rather than by bacteria, plastic breaks down through a process called photodegradation. This process breaks down plastics by exposure to UV rays from the sun. But it’s also a prolonged process that leaks pollutants into our water and soil along the way.   

However, because landfills are repeatedly layered with soil to make space for more waste, the sun hardly has time to reach the plastic before it’s buried under another layer. This process slows down the time for plastic — mainly water bottles — to break down. Scientists suggest that it would take 1,000 years for every single plastic water bottle to decompose.  

Not all plastic is the same, though. Some, like cigarette butts, can take as little as five years to break down. Regular plastic shopping bags take about 20 years, and plastic-lined coffee cups take roughly 30 years. At the other end of the spectrum, fishing lines take about 600 years to decompose (which is becoming a significant problem in the ocean). Toothbrushes, disposable diapers, and Styrofoam all take about 500 years to decompose.   

Its production is harmful to the environment

The aftermath of plastic isn’t the only issue. Plastic is not natural, and its creation wreaks havoc on the environment — in just about every way. First, you can’t produce plastic without fossil fuels. And fossil fuel companies remove coal, crude oil, and natural gas from the Earth through large-scale mining and drilling operations, including the technique called fracking. 

This process of digging deep into the Earth disrupts ecosystems while damaging the land, soil, and air quality along the way. Moreover, these mining and drilling techniques make the area more susceptible to natural disasters like mudslides and flash floods. From there, the process moves to a cracker plant, where fossil fuels are turned into plastic. One byproduct of this? Toxic chemicals that spill into the waterways. Another? More than 100 harmful chemicals which are spewed into the air, including carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. This air pollution causes numerous health issues in surrounding towns and communities. Asthma, lung cancer, brain and organ damage, vomiting, and cardiovascular diseases are just a few.  

Microplastics are a big issue 

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that measure less than five millimeters, or half a centimeter. How are microplastics formed? There are several ways. Some have formed from breaking away from larger plastics fragmented over time; others are microbeads, often used in soaps and facial scrubs. However, most microplastics are clothing fibers, such as nylon, acrylic, and fleece.   

The problem with microplastics is that they are difficult to remove once they’ve accumulated. Organisms ingest them, negatively impacting species. Then, these microplastics often transfer up the food chain as microplastics take many years to decompose.  

In fact, scientists have found microplastics in almost every place on the planet — from mountains and oceans to the Arctic Sea ice, our air, drinking water, and even our bodies. They even find microplastics in the bellies of mosquitos.

To make matters worse, scientists in the U.S. concluded that Americans consume upwards of 70,000 microplastics annually. So yep, these tiny plastic particles are everywhere.    

Only a small percentage of plastic is recycled

Only nine percent of plastic gets recycled every year. And that’s not just a result of laziness or lack of personal responsibility. A lot of plastic put in the recycling bin simply goes to the landfill instead. This happens for several reasons, but it’s mainly because either facilities are at capacity, or they receive non-recyclable plastics. For example, clear plastic bottles are recyclable, but green ones are not. Most plastic coffee lids are not, along with wrappers and pouches. Often, the recycling symbol on those lids or wrappers is fantasy, and they’ll end up at the landfill even if you toss them responsibly in the recycling bin.

Out of everything placed in our recycle bins at home, approximately 50% never gets recycled. These figures show why avoiding plastic and making conscious day-to-day decisions is paramount to our environment and well-being. While we agree that recycling is part of the bigger picture, actively choosing compostable or plastic-free items is the best way to ensure a cleaner planet.  

Plastic projections are insane

If these facts and figures don’t already have you reevaluating your future life choices, consider some of these scientist-based projections for 2050.  

  • Ocean plastic is expected to double over the next 15 years. It is believed that by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea. 
  • By 2050, about 99.8% of all studied species will have consumed plastic. 
  • Scientists also believe plastic will be in 99% of seabirds by 2050. 
  • If current trends continue and significant changes aren’t made, by 2050 we’ll have produced 26 billion metric tons of plastic waste. 

While we know it’s a lot to take in, we hope these facts about plastic’s impact on the environment have given you some clarity. Luckily, there is still time to make a positive change by reducing your plastic consumption and spreading the word — perhaps by forwarding this article along! Let’s all continue to do our part to make this world a better place for the sake of ourselves, our communities, lifeforms, and generations to come. 

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