With plastic becoming more and more recognized for being toxic to our environment, wildlife and marine life, people are questioning just how bad the impact is on animals.
According to research, 100 million marine animals die each year from plastic related issues. 100,000 are entangled each year and die and 12-14,000 tons of plastic are ingested by North Pacific fish alone yearly.
How Much Plastic Is In The Ocean?
Unfortunately, there are too many amounts of plastic in the world’s oceans – from large waste to micro plastics. It’s estimated that there is around 269,000 tons of macro and micro pieces of plastic across all the oceans.
This is around eight million pieces of plastic ending up in the ocean EVERY day! The damage this can do to our marine life and quality of water is astounding. With the time it takes for plastic to completely break down or even degrade into microplastics being decades and or even centuries, our oceans will just continue to become more and more polluted.
This is extremely dangerous for our marine life across the world who can ingest microplastics, be tangled or suffocated by larger plastics or choke on plastic. Larger plastics can even cause fatal injuries by wrapping around necks, legs and other body parts.
How Much Plastic Is In Landfill?
Just as plastic is polluting our oceans, it’s en masse on land. With so much plastic ending up as general pollution or even in landfill, this is a massive problem across the world. Plastic takes way too long to break down, which means that disposed of plastic is sitting in and on the ground for decades or even centuries.
Research estimates around 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since the 1950s. They estimate around 60 per cent of that plastic has ended up in landfill or the natural environment. Our planet is really getting overtaken by plastic and this has devastating impacts across all levels of life and environment.
How Long Does Plastic Take To Break Down?
Plastic takes a long time to decompose due to how it’s manufactured and the materials it contains. Most plastics are made of polyethylene terephthalate or PET, which is virtually indestructible as bacteria can’t break them down.
For materials to be able to break down or decompose, typically they need to contain organic or raw compounds that can be broken down by microbes or UV light. Nature needs to recognize them!
Plastic made from petroleum which is the end product of millions of years of once-living organisms decaying, has a manufacturing process which completely changes this material so that it can no longer be broken down.
Plastics made from propylene (most plastics) are unable to be broken down because they are heated which makes the individual chemical components link together, forming extremely strong carbon-carbon bonds with each other. Nature doesn’t understand this and so it cannot be broken down.
Find out more about the different types of plastic in this blog.
What Types Of Plastic Take The Longest Time To Breakdown?
Plastic breaks down at different rates based on the type, the materials it contains and its size and usage. This means that plastic can take between 20 years and 500 to break down into smaller particles which will never completely disappear even if they are unable to be seen.
Here are some products and the time they can take to breakdown based on where they are disposed of, any other materials inside or on (such as dye or additives):
– Plastic bags can take around 20 years yet can be extremely harmful to wildlife including ocean life.
– Coffee cups may take around 30 years and, as you can imagine, they are widely used globally and so contribute greatly to landfill.
– Plastic straws may take up to 200 years which is why many countries are introducing legislation to get rid of plastic straws. They can also pose great risks for wildlife and ocean life.
– Plastic bottles – such as spring water or soft drinks can take up to 450 years. Think about how widely used these are and the potential global impact of these! They can often be recycled, yet many people don’t bother to recycle.
– Disposable nappies/diapers take a very long time to break down – around 500 years in many cases! They require oxygen AND sunlight to break down so don’t break down well in landfill. They can also contaminate groundwater.
– Coffee pods and toothbrushes can also take up to 500 years which is why you will see more and more options for eco-friendly coffee pods and toothbrushes (think bamboo!) on the market.
Why Is Plastic Bad?
Everyone now knows that plastic is bad and can tell you, its impact on the environment is the number one reason. There are many reasons that plastic is bad – landfill contribution, environmental toxicity, risk to marine life and wildlife and even risk to humans in some cases.
Here are some key reasons plastics are being recognised as bad options, particularly for single-use items:
- Plastic can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose or break down in any environment, including landfill.
- When plastic decomposes, it breaks down into small pieces that may not be visible to the naked eye, however, these small pieces of plastic will never fully decompose and will potentially contaminate water, soil and air.
- Plastic can harm wildlife as they can get caught up in plastic – on land and in the ocean – or they can consume small pieces of plastic which will kill them either via choking or other health consequences or injury.
- The manufacturing process of plastic uses high amounts of electricity and water, while releasing large amounts of greenhouse gasses.
- Plastic products have been found to be toxic to humans. This is due to the chemicals added to plastics and then absorbed by humans, such as from water or other bottles. Microplastics entering the human body through ingestion or inhalation can also be toxic.
- There have also been studies shown that certain chemicals found in plastic can leach out of the plastic and into food and beverages. This has been linked to health problems such as reduced fertility, cancers or metabolic disorders.
Read more about how plastic has been toxic to humans here.
Why Should I Stop Using Plastic?
If you’ve come to this blog then you have taken the first step to making a change! Why should you stop using plastic in your everyday life? Simply, to lower your environmental footprint and lessen your contribution to landfill and waste. We’ve outlined many reasons above!
But, did you know that plastic bags in particular are bad for the environment? Plastic is everywhere around us but unfortunately, when it’s sent to landfill it will take hundreds to thousands of years to break down.
This is terrible for our waste problem as well as the environment such as wildlife, soil and waterways.
How Can We Stop Using Plastic?
If you’re interested in stopping or reducing your plastic use, then here are some top tips for you! There are many items that can be replaced with plastic alternatives and you can find many of these easily. If you’re looking to make a change, here are five small steps you can take personally to lower your landfill contribution:
- Understand the different plastic alternatives – biodegradable and compostable are two easily available options that can replace many items.
- Identify which plastics you can replace – this could be your shopping carry bags, trash bags, dog poo bags, food and drink containers and disposable cutlery.
- Buy plastic alternatives that suit your lifestyle – you can find these in many standard grocery stores as well as online.
- Encourage your family or business to go compostable or biodegradable – share the benefits and the cost of these items with those close to you.
- Ensure you dispose of correctly in your normal waste – don’t try to dispose of biodegradable in a composter or worm farm OR compostable in normal trash.
The biggest benefit of using plastic alternatives is seen in your environmental footprint and contributing less issues in the manufacturing process. A typical plastic bag can take centuries to thousands of years to break down in landfill and so biodegradable or compostable plastic reduces this time vastly.
There are also less traditional plastic chemicals in biodegradable plastics which means less environmental issues in the future such as pollution, toxicity and methane production in landfill.
Find out more about switching from plastic in this blog.
As we’ve just discussed, plastic is unfortunately clogging our planet. Our landfill, our general environment and our waterways and oceans. This is a big issue not only for water quality but also for our animals who are getting entangled, being poisoned by ingesting and also choking on plastics.
There are ways you can reduce your environmental impact by switching to plastic alternatives. Particularly when it comes to plastic bags, there are many alternatives! These include compostable, biodegradable, fabric and others you can use and reuse again!
So if you’re looking to lower your plastic pollution, start today!