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The Plastic Problem

We’ve all heard it by now, plastic is a real problem and it is polluting everywhere, but are we listening to the warnings? Are we heeding the calls that tell us that we are the ones responsible for destroying and killing a lot of what nature has entrusted to us just from the use of plastic? Yes, in many countries around the world, we have now been forced to pay extra for the privilege of being able to carry our shopping home in a plastic bag in order to help us cut down on our addiction to plastic, but has that really stopped us from paying that little extra and using those aforementioned plastic bags to make everything that little bit easier for ourselves?

Oil has radically changed our lives and the world as a whole since its discovery and subsequent use in almost every product in existence. Plastic is one of those products, born out of oil, that is, just as oil, such a core part of our lives that it seems almost unfathomable to try to live without it. And herein lies the problem.

Pristine Beach

What we are used to seeing on holiday (Credit: pixabay/Walkerssk)

Plastic kills. Let’s begin with the oceans, those massive bodies of water that we never ever see except for when we are sunning our bronzed bodies on a beautiful beach, perfectly clean and pristine, somewhere in the Pacific ocean, in the Mediterranean sea, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Indian Ocean, this list of places goes on and on and on the touristy beaches of all these places, there doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Polluted Beach

A much less common scene for the average tourist (Credit: pixabay/geraldsimon00)

However, there is a problem and that problem could end up being quite catastrophic. A study published in December 2014 asserted that there was a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles of plastic weighing a total of 268,940 tons in the worlds oceans and seas. All these tiny particles floating around our seas and oceans create huge problems because plastic doesn’t break down for a very long time so it will continue to float around for hundreds if not thousands of years unless something drastic is done to stop this recklessness. Not only fish but even the tiniest of marine animals, plankton, ingest this indigestible, toxic poison which not only upsets the animal populations that do eat it but the entire food chain as other animals eat the animals which originally ate the plastic, and the sequence continues all the way up the food chain with devastating effects to whole populations and even entire species.

The Guardian recently reported on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean and part of the Pitcairns called Henderson Island where around 18 tonnes or 38 million pieces of plastic waste was found washed up on the beaches of this tiny atoll. This is according to The Guardian, “the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world.”

Nairobi Plastic Bag Pollution

Plastic bag litter in Nairobi, Kenya (Credit: The Guardian)

It’s not only the world’s oceans that are at risk from plastic. Many of our cities are also in jeopardy and face huge problems. The Kenyan government recently announced that they would be banning plastic bags and making them illegal in the entire country because of the impact they’ve had on the country and especially on its capital, Nairobi. Plastic is just as harmful on land as in the ocean with some of the side effects, amongst many, being that once water and plastic mix, just as in the ocean, chemicals and toxins begin leeching out from the plastic. This could potentially run off into ground water or other sources of drinkable water, hence contaminating the drinking water for whole communities or even entire cities. Land animals are just as affected by these toxins as humans and sea animals and can be poisoned either by consuming the plastic or by drinking the contaminated water. The toxins also leech into the ground itself and plants absorb these toxins through their root systems while taking in nutrients and water.

Oil Refinery

An oil refinery, after the oil has been extracted from the earth (Credit: pixabay/JurgenPM)

Burning Landfill

A landfill burning in Mexico City to measure emissions (Credit: Climate Central/Ted Christian)

Plastic affects every part of our earth and the skies are by no means exempt. Because plastic is made from oil and gas, the environmental effect of extracting the oil or the gas has to be factored in when discussing the issue of plastic pollution. When oil or gas is extracted from the earth dangerous toxins are released from the earth into the air according to Earth Works. Some of these pollutants and how they affect us and the environment include Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Xylene, Carbon Monoxide, Hydrogen Sulfide, Nitrogen Oxide and Sulfur Dioxide. Humans, land animals, birds and even animals that live in the oceans breathe all this in on a regular basis, causing all sorts of respiratory and allergy problems the world over. Couple that with the unlawful, in most places, practice of burning the plastics, especially those found in landfills, and you have even more dangerous toxins being released into an atmosphere that is already under intense pressure from the stress we humans are putting on it.

We have the power to change, we also have the power to destroy.

Although governments are trying to help with the problem by banning and charging and so forth, at the end of the day, the buck stops with us and we are the ones who hold the keys to our own future, the future of the entire human race, and to blame anyone but ourselves for the overuse of plastics would be quite hypocritical. We have the power to change things and we have to understand that contrary to what some may say, we also have the power to destroy. Using plastic responsibly, and eventually not at all, is well within our power and all it takes is a little willpower and teamwork.

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