What can we do to reduce plastic pollution?

Pile of rubble, Natalya Critchley

Versión en español

Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic objects and particles in the Earth’s environment, particularly in the oceans and other waterways, that adversely affects humans, wildlife and their habitat. Plastics that act as pollutants are categorized by size into micro-, meso-, or macro debris. Plastics are inexpensive and durable, making them very adaptable for different uses; as a result, manufacturers choose to use plastic over other materials. However, the chemical structure of most plastics renders them resistant to many natural processes of degradation and as a result they are slow to degrade. Plastics can take hundreds of years to degrade, and even when they do, they break down into microplastics, which can be harmful to the environment and organisms that ingest them.

Plastic pollution is a global problem that is having a devastating impact on marine life, as well as on human health. It is estimated that over 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, which can have significant impacts on wildlife. Marine animals can become entangled in plastic waste or mistake plastic debris for food, leading to injury or death. Plastic debris can also impact ecosystems by altering food chains and nutrient cycling. Plastic pollution is also a health hazard for humans. Plastics contain harmful chemicals that can leach into the environment and enter the food chain, potentially causing health problems for people who consume contaminated seafood or other products.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vast area of the Pacific Ocean where plastic debris and other trash have accumulated due to ocean currents and winds. It is located between Hawaii and California and is estimated to be 1.6 million square kilometers in size, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. The patch is not a solid mass of trash, but rather a concentration of small plastic particles, including microplastics, which are less than 5 millimeters in size. These particles are often invisible to the naked eye and can be harmful to marine life, as they can be mistaken for food or ingested by animals.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is just one of several areas of the ocean where plastic pollution has accumulated due to the actions of humans. It highlights the need for greater efforts to reduce plastic waste and improve waste management practices around the world. There are a number of efforts underway to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. One effort is the Ocean Cleanup, which is developing a system of floating barriers to collect the plastic debris. Another effort is the Trash Free Seas Alliance, which is working to reduce the amount of plastic pollution that enters the ocean.

Source: TJ Watson

Addressing plastic pollution requires action at all levels, from individuals to governments and industry. Strategies include reducing plastic consumption, improving waste management systems, and developing alternative materials to plastics that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Source: UNEP

This year’s World Environment Day on the 5th of June 2023 will address the plastic pollution crisis (#BeatPlasticPollution). We produce every year more than 430 million tonnes of plastic, two-thirds of which soon become waste. Here are some things we can do to reduce plastic pollution:

  • Refuse single-use plastics. This includes things like plastic bags, straws, and water bottles. Instead, we should try to bring our own reusable bags and water bottles when we go out.
  • Choose products with less packaging. When we are shopping, look for products that are packaged in less plastic.
  • Recycle plastic whenever possible. If you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse plastic, then make sure to recycle it properly.
  • Support businesses that are working to reduce plastic pollution. When we’re shopping, choose businesses that are making an effort to reduce their use of plastic.
  • Get involved in the community. There are many organizations that are working to reduce plastic pollution; for instance, join the TED-Ed and students around the world in understanding and helping solve the global plastic waste problem. Get involved in the community and help make a difference.

Even small changes can make a big difference. By taking these steps, we can help to reduce plastic pollution and protect the environment.

Source: ChatGPT, Google Bard

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