What Plastic Pollution is and Why We Should be Worried

What Plastic Pollution is and Why We Should be Worried

For most of us, the use of plastics today has become commonplace, with little thought of what it's doing to the environment and our health. Look around you . . . beverage and food containers, pens, toys, packaging, shoes, cleaning products, toiletry, and cosmetic containers, car interiors, and more . . . are made of plastic. We are surrounded by it and it is having a massive impact on our health and the planet we depend on for life itself.

The deluge of plastic waste we create has turned into a crisis that's hiding in plain sight. Plastic waste is choking our oceans, rivers, and lakes, piling up on land, killing plants, and wildlife. The world has produced a shocking 18.2 trillion pounds of plastic since the 1950's when it first became popular. And think about this - enough plastic is mindlessly discarded every year to circle the earth 4 times! Like water that evaporates into the air, the toxins created by plastics eventually end up raining back down to the earth, where they will remain for centuries.

 The Impact of Plastic Pollution on Our Health

Every stage of the lifecycles of plastics presents significant risks to human health. Most of the health problems are caused by endocrine-disrupting chemical compounds that alter hormones. These compounds have been linked to numerous health problems that include cancers, obesity, heart issues, birth defects. Plastic toxins can also impact the nervous and immune systems and reproductive health. What many don't seem to realize is that the ocean is also closely tied to our health and well-being. There’s more to the ocean than its beauty.

 Plastic Pollution Threatens the Future of Our Oceans

Our oceans and coastlines provide us with resources we depend on every day, ranging from food to medication (Several marine-based medicines have been discovered that treat conditions like cancer, inflammation, asthma, etc.). Unfortunately, our oceans are facing a growing threat from something we're using every day - plastics. Approximately 17.6 billion pounds of plastic leaks into our oceans from land-based sources annually. . . this is comparable to dumping a garbage truck full of plastic waste into the ocean every minute. When exposed to the sun, plastics often break down into pieces small enough that marine life can consume them. In addition, gigantic floating masses of plastic (and other discarded trash) ends up blocking sunlight from getting through to the algae and plankton below it. These conditions cause essential producers in the marine food chain to suffer which affects us all.  

Only 20% of the plastic pollution in our oceans comes from commercial fishing activities and illegal dumping at sea. Most enter the ocean via land-based sources of plastic debris, including our own homes.  We all need to change how we produce, use, and dispose of plastic if we don't want it to affect our health, ecosystems, and oceans. Recycling alone isn't enough to solve the problem.  To make a significant impact, we all need to reduce use, especially of single-use plastics to achieve a low-waste future.

Reading next

5 Simple & Surprising Ways You Can Help Save the Planet
Why Plastics Aren’t All Bad

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