Plastic pollution is disrupting biological functions in animals and humans, clogging our waterways and oceans, contributing to the climate crisis, and impacting every species up and down the food chain in every corner of the planet. The largest percentage of this pollution is made up of single-use plastic, and there are five major reasons we should ban its use.
1) Food Packaging Can Only Be Made from Virgin Plastic
All single-use food plastics —such as the plastic film and container holding the salad you have at lunchtime and the dinner you pick up on your way home from work — are made of virgin plastic. Virgin plastic is directly sourced from the petrochemical plant. It is the only plastic that is “food safe,” because recycled plastic degrades during the recycling process. That is, it becomes too toxic for food.
2) Plastic Messes with our Biology
Once processed, recycled plastic that we unknowingly ingest can leach chemicals into our bodies, doing weird things to our biology in ways that “disrupt” the endocrine system. This is what we know. What we don’t know is more troubling.
A study done in the 1980s in North America’s Great Lakes region found “herring gull chicks dying in their eggs, cormorants born with eyes missing and crossed bills and domesticated mink no longer producing pups” where a high concentration of chemicals and pesticides was present. All of these biological mishaps were linked to disruptions of the endocrine system.
If high levels of industrial chemicals impact wildlife in such jaw-dropping ways, then human beings are equally susceptible to these effects. Plastic is everywhere. We place it in our mouths, wear it, clean with it, breathe it, and inadvertently eat it.
3) The World Is Choking with Plastic Pollution
Single-use plastic is the worst of the worst. Its use is growing exponentially, it is the most inefficient, wasteful kind of plastic, and we make more of it than all the other types of plastic. According to National Geographic, 40% of all plastics aforementioned is single-use packaging. The bottom line? We have to quit making it.
The ultimate responsibility falls on the companies — all of them. There are non-toxic, environmentally stable alternatives to single-use plastics, from edible utensils, to compostable bamboo packaging, to individuals providing their own cutlery and containers. Grocery stores, retailers and restaurants have no excuse for choosing single-use plastics over the alternatives other than to cut costs, all to keep their bottom line in shape, at the expense of our health and our planet.
4) Only 9% of Plastic Is Recycled
Considering that approximately 9% of plastic is actually recycled, we have a major problem. If the plastic is actually recycled, it can only be recycled again a handful of times — and not back to its original use. For example, a plastic jug will never be a plastic jug again because it degrades in the recycling process. The more it is processed, the more toxic it becomes, because it requires more chemicals and agents to keep it from leeching. The more you try to recycle it, the worse it is for the environment.
5) Plastic Is Now Part of the Geological Record
To put it another way, every piece of plastic ever produced since 1950 is still out there, hasn’t broken down in nature and will take hundreds of years to disappear. It is so prevalent it has become a geological layer in the fossil record called “technofossils.”
“When you think we have only been using plastic heavily in the last 50 years, it really shows how much it is persisting in the environment. It has reached the bottom of the ocean and the guts of marine animals too,” said Dr. Ceri Lewis, a marine biologist, in a 2017 article in the DailyMail.
Solutions to our plastic addiction must be pursued on several levels — companies must place the welfare of people before profit, individuals must proactively demand alternatives, and governments must pass appropriate legislation at all levels, including city, state and federal. Business, individuals and governments must work together to make systematic change.
What is required is for us to stop manufacturing single-use plastics and quickly adapt edible, compostable, chemical-free alternatives to single-use plastic. We can do this in phases, but we must start now. Our health and the health of our planet depend on it.
Lisa M. McDougald is a member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and lives in Valencia.