The Problem with Plastic
What is plastic and what is it used for?
Plastic is a material made from from natural coal and oil. It’s cheap and easy to make, strong and lasts a long time. This is why it’s such a popular material for making many things – packaging, toys, electronics, household items…the list is endless.
Plastic is so cheap that it’s often used for single-use items that are used and immediately thrown away. Bottles, straws, food packets, wet wipes and bags are all thrown in the bin after just one use.
Just look around you and see how many plastic items you can spot!
Why is plastic a problem?
The problem with plastic is that most of it isn’t biodegradable – which means it doesn’t rot, like paper or food. Instead it stays in the environment for hundreds of years. When we have finished using each plastic item it has to go somewhere. Some ends up in landfill sites, but a lot ends up polluting our environment, especially the oceans.
More than eight million tonnes of plastics enter the world’s oceans each year, blown into the sea from ships and beaches, carried there by rivers and from sewers. Our oceans are becoming swamped with plastic and it affects all marine life. Plastic ‘Islands’ are created these where ocean currents have carried plastic waste to the same few areas. The most famous is the ‘Pacific Garbage Patch’ between California and Hawaii.
The impact on wildlife
Both land and marine animals are affected by plastic waste. Animals and birds eat plastic, mistaking it for food. The plastic then stays in their stomach making them feel full so they think they don’t need to eat anymore. This causes them to die of starvation.
A sperm whale that washed up at the Wakatobi National Park in Indonesia in December 2018 had 115 cups, 25 bags, four bottles and two slippers in its stomach!
Animals and birds often become injured, and even die, when they get tangled in plastic debris, such as discarded ropes, nets, carrier bags and packaging, and can’t escape. Marine mammals that become entangled in plastic may even drown.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic formed when bigger pieces of plastic break down. These tiny pieces of plastic are so small they are not picked up by water filtration and make it out into rivers and oceans. Tiny plastic fibres from clothing made of plastic have also been found in the air we breathe.
Whilst we can recycle some plastic it’s not possible to recycle it all. This might be because of the way it’s made or because it is too expensive or difficult to do. Items made from several types of material are hardest to recycle. For example crisp tubes, which are made of metal, plastic and cardboard, and many disposable coffee cups which have a waterproof plastic coating.
What can you do?
Don’t use Plastic Straws
Certain cafes and restaurants are only giving out straws if people ask for them. Some are also swapping them for paper ones.
Reuse Plastic Bags
A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade! When you go shopping make sure to take your own bags with you.
Use Reusable Bottles
Use a reusable water bottle rather than buying single use bottles when you’re out. Many cafes will refill it for you if you ask.
Pass on Plastic Toys
Many plastic toys end up in landfill every year. When you are given new toys look after them. When you’ve outgrown them clean them up and give them to a charity shop, pass them on to a younger child or sell them.
Buy Second Hand
If you do want a new toy or clothes have a look on online second hand sites and in your local charity shops. Not only are you saving an item from landfill but you’re saving on all the excess packaging that items are packed in.
Buy Loose Fruit & Veg
Supermarkets like to wrap their fruit and veg in plastic to keep it looking it’s best. If you can buy loose fruit and veg to save on all the plastic wrap. You could also shop at farmers market and avoid the supermarket altogether!
Choose Ice Cream Cones
When you buy an ice cream avoid the plastic pot and plastic spoon. Choose an edible cone instead (those chocolate dipped ones are delicious!)
Plastic free lunches
Wrap sandwiches in reusable wrappers made of cloth or beeswax. Avoid plastic-wrapped snacks – make your own instead!
Avoid filling your party bags with cheap throwaway toys. Skip the balloons too. Instead look for plastic-free options for your party.