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The invention of plastic in 1907 was considered a breakthrough. Plastic products soon became a common component of everyone’s’ life and we thought nothing of it’s potential negative effects. For many years, we only perceived the benefits of plastic and knew little of the damaging consequences for human health, natural ecosystems and the climate. Plastics are a problem mostly due to their un-biodegradable nature, the materials used for plastic production (hydrocarbon molecules—derived from the refining of oil and natural gas), and the challenges behind properly discarding them.
The immense scope of the problem – what we have done so far to fix it and what we can all do to mitigate its damage. More than 9 billion tons of plastic has been produced since 1950, and the vast majority of it is still around. A new study that tracked the global manufacture and distribution of plastics since they became widespread after World War II found that only 2 billion tons of that plastic is still in use. Seven billion tons is stuck on Earth as garbage in landfills, recycled trash or pollution in the environment, including deep oceans, where it’s been discovered in the mouths of whales and the bellies of dead seabirds that mistook it for food. A small amount is eliminated in incinerators.
As plastic becomes near-indestructible mountains of garbage on land and swirling vortexes of trash on the high seas, humans keep making more. Half of the plastic that people mostly use once and toss away was created in the past 30 years, the study says. The highest recycling rates in 2014 were in Europe (30 percent) and China (25 percent), whereas in the United States, plastic recycling has remained steady at 9 percent.”
Recycling, while it seems is the best solution to the problem, only delays plastic’s inevitable trip to a trash bin. Incineration is the only way to assure that plastic is eliminated, and Europe and China by far lead the United States in that category as well, up to 40 percent compared with 16 percent.
But burning plastic is risky because if the emissions aren’t carefully filtered, harmful chemicals become air pollution. Like other countries, the United States has been slow to enforce regulations on industry emissions.
Want to help eliminate your plastic consumption? Here are some ideas anyone can try.