A Plastic Planet – Sustainability Story of the Week
We’re creating a plastic planet. This week I’m telling you about how we are slowly but surely turning our planet into a gigantic plastic dump. Our obsession with plastic, so convenient and yet so damaging, is such that it is now found virtually everywhere including on the top of the world, at the bottom of our oceans and in remote uninhabited islands…
Our journey to a plastic planet began with the invention of the first synthetic plastic at the start of the 20th century which revolutionised modern life. Cheap, strong and durable, it marked the beginning of an era of mass-consumption and, one could argue, excess… We were soon surrounded by plastic and it became an intrinsic part of our everyday life. It is now something we just can’t do without.
Plastic is convenient and has made our lives a lot easier. We are going through life surrounded by our plastic companions always there to serve us. However, there’s a price to pay and it’s a pretty hefty one. Plastic is so durable that it can take thousands of years to decompose. This means that we are effectively burying ourselves in plastic. It is estimated that since 1950, 9.1 billion tones of plastic have been produced, 7 billion of which are thought to no longer be in use. Scientists believe only 9% of the plastic produced was recycled, 12% was incinerated, leaving the rest to fill our oceans and land.
When it breaks down into microscopic particles, it can wriggle its way into places even man hasn’t reached yet. It is believed that microplastics may cover the very depth of our oceans. Microplastics have also been found in the Arctic sea ice, water from the Himalayas and even in the air. There’s a garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean also called the “Pacific Trash Vortex”, which contains extremely high levels of plastic debris.
Plastic is a deadly trap for many marine animals and affects fragile ecosystems. Caught up in ocean gyres working like a conveyor belt for the world’s waste, it often ends its journey on the shores of beautiful and fragile islands. Henderson Island lies in the South Pacific. It has been spared from human intrusion but not from plastic. Even though it is uninhabited and is miles away from human settlements, the island has the world’s highest density of trash.
This is how far the consequences of our actions can reach. Things are evolving in the right direction with plastic bags being banned in more and more countries and biodegradable plastics becoming more common. And yet, it is ultimately down to us to put a halt to our plastic madness if we want to give our planet a fighting chance.