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What's the Problem with Plastic anyway?

Plastic pollution has become one of our most urgent environmental issues.

We create so much plastic waste these days that we are unable to deal its disposal.

Plastic pollution is most visible in developing countries, where refuse collection systems are poor or sometimes non-existent.

However in the developed world, especially in countries with low recycling rates, the amount of discarded plastic is getting harder and harder to deal with.

 When did it all begin?

Plastics, made from fossil fuels are just over a century old. Prouction really only took off around 1950. 

Plastics revolutionised many areas of utmost importance. Life-saving devices were built using plastic products, plastic lightened cars which in turn saved fuel and pollution. Countless lives were saved with helmets, incubators and equipment for clean drinking water, to name a few.

The dark side

The convenience plastics offer has led to a throw-away, disposable culture. Today, single-use plastics account for 40% of the plastic produced every year.

Many of these products, such as plastic bags, straws, cutlery and food wrappers, have a lifespan of a few minutes to hours, yet they will remain in the environment for hundreds of years. 
 

Plastics by numbers

  • Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years!
  • Production is expected to double by 2050.
  • Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste enters into the oceans from coastal nations. 
  • Plastics often contain additives making them stronger & more flexible, these additives add to the plastics life span often taking over 400 years to break down. 


Ocean Plastic

Most of the plastic waste in the oceans flows from the land carried by streams and rivers, gathering more waste as it flows downstream. Once at sea, it will remain near coastal regions until it's picked up by currents where it is then transported around the globe.
 

Microplastics

As plastic is not a natural product it does not biodegrade rather it photo-degrades (gets broken down into smaller pieces by the action of light, especially sunlight) Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles.  These microplastics have been found in every corner of the globe. Marine species of all sizes now eat microplastics and they are entering our food chain. A 2019 study carried out by the Environmental Science & Technology journal estimates that the average adult consumes about 50,000 pieces of microplastic particles each year and children about 40,000. Let that sink in; bearing in mind that plastic is made using oil. 

Until I watched the documentary 'A Plastic Ocean', I was blissfully unaware of the scale of the damage plastic is having on our environment. It was so shocking and upsetting for me to watch seabirds feeding their chicks pieces of algae-covered plastic, rendering their offspring malnourished. 40% of seabirds are dying from starvation, but their stomachs are full ... of our plastic waste. The record number of pieces of plastic found in one 90-day old seabird chick is 276 pieces which equates to about 15% of that bird's body mass.

The very next day, I began my mission to reduce our use of plastic. This ultimately involved a complete career change for me and culminated with the opening of Tipperary's first zero waste shop. 

For more information on 'A Plastic Ocean' - click here