Let’s start with a little story, shall we?
Once upon a time, King Midas asked the gods for one wish; for everything he touched to be turned into gold. At first, it was great; trees, rocks and buildings turned into gold upon his touch. Unfortunately, he soon learnt that even his food turned into gold and upon holding his daughter for comfort, turned her into gold as well. The human race had a similar wish granted when we learnt how to take crude oil and gas, turning them into plastics.
When plastic was first invented, it quickly dominated the 20th century providing a cheap, sterile and convenient way to create products and packaging. Production only accelerated after WWII, leading to plastic being everywhere. Unfortunately, over time plastic has saturated our environment including our oceans. It began harming wildlife of the land, sea and air, leading to the deaths of countless creatures. It’s also finding its way into our bodies through the animals we eat. Sound familiar? just like King Midas and his gold.
The days of plastic being the revolutionary be all to end all material has ended and now it’s more trash than treasure. Think about all the items wrapped or packaged in plastic, which in fact, makes up 40% of plastic being used, which is then simply thrown away. As a race, we’ve collectively decided to use this material for things made to be put in the bin. Once it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind, or so we thought. Plastic is made from polymer resins with durability that can take 500 to 1,000 years to break down.
To date, humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic. More than 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic have become waste since 1907. This waste was then broken down into the following categories:
- 9% was recycled
- 12% was burnt
- 79% ended up in landfills, meaning it is still sitting around
Further to this, 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year, harming marine life. This will lead to the amount of plastic in the ocean outweighing the amount of fish by 2050. As the ocean and the surrounding shores are littered with so much plastic, many marine animals are eating said plastics. This has resulted in many animals choking or starving to death due to having indigestible plastics in their stomachs.
Even more concerning than the plastics we can see, are the ones we can’t, known as Microplastics. No larger than 5 millimetres, Microplastics usually occur from plastic pollutants exposure to the environment, breaking apart from larger plastics. If you’ve ever wondered why modern reusable water bottles have BPA free on them, it’s because scientists have found they interfere with our hormonal systems. If that’s not scary enough, plasticiser DEHP, used in a variety of products including children’s toys and has been linked to causing cancer.
Microplastic particles get eaten by the smallest of organisms in the ocean and this then continues up the food chain and ends up in human bodies. That’s right, those microplastics are in the fish that lands on your plate.
There’s still time to make a difference, we can fight back against a century of damage! What you do matters, our individual daily actions still have an impact. Just remember these 6 pillars:
The moral to King Midas’s story and our own, is to be careful what we wish for.