In today’s age of global advancement, it is almost impossible to find a person who hasn’t come across this term – Plastic. Plastic has become a necessary evil in our lives. Thanks to the ever-increasing production of disposable plastic products, plastic pollution has now turned into a global concern.
It is more prominent in developing countries where garbage collection systems are incompetent. But this situation is not limited to developing nations, developed countries with low recycling rates, also has trouble properly collecting discarded plastics.
Production and development of plastic products accelerated after the Second World War. Life without plastics would be unrecognizable today. The benefits plastics offer, however, has led to a throw-away culture that showcases its dark side. Today, single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year. Many of these products, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, yet they may persist in the environment for hundreds of years.
Some key facts about plastic pollution:
- Plastic production increased exponentially from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
- 8 million tons of plastic waste enters the oceans from coastal nations every year.
- Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
- Many times, plastics contain additives that render them strength, flexibility, and durability. Many of these additives increase the shelf life of plastic products. When they become litter, it takes at least 400 years approximately for their break down.
Mostly, plastic trash flows down to the oceans from land. Once at sea, much of the plastic trash remains in coastal waters. But once caught up in ocean currents, it can be transported around the world.
Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave assist the breakdown of plastic waste into small particles, usually less than one-fifth of an inch across. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough.
Microplastics are breaking down further into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic microfibers, meanwhile, have been found in municipal drinking water systems and drifting through the air.
Wildlife is the worst affected by plastics from birds to fish to other marine organisms. Approximately, 700 species, including endangered ones, have been found to be affected by plastics. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics. Fatality to sea animals is caused by entanglement or starvation. by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings. Microplastics have been found in more than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and mussels destined for our dinner plates.
Plastic is consumed by terrestrial animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals, in some cases causing death. New research shows that larval fish consumes nanofibers during the initial years of life, giving concerning thoughts about the effects of plastics on fish populations.