Plastic has gone from a miracle material to an un-natural disaster
Back when America was great, DuPont had a catchy slogan: “Better Things For Better Living…Through Chemistry.” We were all amazed at how chemists could concoct cool new stuff like Teflon or the polyester yarns that made leisure suits so terrific. (If you missed the golden age of leisure suits, consider yourself lucky.) And who can forget the epic scene in the movie The Graduate in which a neighbor tells young Benjamin Braddock, “I have one word for you, Ben. One word — plastics.”
By Steve Hanley
From that golden age where anything was possible, the world has descended into a living hell of plastic detritus that has totally infiltrated the earth and its oceans. A new study by Orb Media shows that 83% of the earth’s population is drinking water contaminated by plastic particles. Another study from the UN finds that plastic has now infiltrated sea salt available in the UK, France, Spain, China, and the US.
What it comes down to is that we now live in an environment inundated with plastic waste products. The water that we drink and the food we eat are polluting our bodies with those plastic wastes, many of which are microscopically small. It shouldn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that such contamination is dangerous to all living things. “You are what you eat,” is still the supreme law of existence.
“We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. “If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”
“We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late,” said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study. Maron adds that plastics are very useful. Among other things, they are essential to keeping food safe during shipping and storage. But she says management of the waste must be drastically improved: “We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.”
How do we cut down on the amount of plastics we consume and discard? In an earlier article, we focused on 8 ways to do precisely that. Recycling is clearly a big part of the answer. In the UK, less than half of all plastic bottles are recycled, but 98% are recycled in Germany. What’s the difference? Germany has a system that pays a small refund for each bottle returned. The UK does not, although it is starting to impose a fee on plastic bags with some success. More biodegradable plastics would also help.
Running around saying the sky is falling and demanding somebody do something is mostly a waste of breath. Personal responsibility is the one thing that actually could make America — and the rest of the world — great again.
(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)