The most frightening monsters are the ones that we create. And though plastic does not fit in with the typical image of a sharp-fanged, clawed and horned creature, it truly is a nightmare humanity has created over the past half-century. Our careless use of plastic has not only endangered the ecosystem we live in, but is also poisoning us and threatens our very survival.
Plastic is all around us
It was in the 1950s that humanity discovered the miracle of plastic. The cheapness, strength, and durability of plastic quickly made it a darling among many industries, from packaging to construction, storage, and more. We knew plastic would last for a long time, but chose to be blind to the consequences of such a long-lasting material. More than 50 years later, humanity is now stuck with billions of tons of plastic it has no idea how to get rid of.
“It lasts a really long time… It doesn’t biodegrade. So, it just sits there… We have statistics reaching all the way back to the dawn of plastic mass production in 1950. And if we add it all together, it’s 8.3 billion metric tons. So, if we take that and spread it out evenly over California, the entire state of California would be covered. And that would be an ugly sight,” Roland Geyer, professor of environmental science at UC Santa Barbara, said in an interview with CBS News.
And it is not just the land that we have polluted with plastic. The oceans too have not been spared. Plastic not only threatens aquatic habitats, but eventually gets on our dinner table as poison.
Plastic and the fish
Many people falsely assume that the plastic in the ocean gets eaten by the fish and it is these microplastics that end up getting inside the stomach. That is not how plastic poisons us. In fact, there is very little scientific evidence to suggest that the plastic that a fish eats gets into the flesh that we consume.
The threat comes from the chemicals in the plastic and the nanoparticles that the plastic degrades into while in the ocean. These chemicals and nanoparticles can get into the flesh of the fish, which subsequently enters our gut when we consume them.
“We do know the concentrations of chemicals at the time of manufacture in some cases are very high… We don’t know how much additive is left in the plastic by the time it becomes bite-size to a fish,” a marine ecologist said in an interview with National Geographic.
The necessity of international action
Understanding the urgency of the situation, activists have called for an international action plan for managing plastic. Last year, over 200 countries signed a resolution that promised to reduce polluting the oceans with plastic.
To the horror of environmental activists, the U.S. rejected the draft, with China and India following suit. Essentially, three of the biggest economies in the world have yet to take any steps to curb the menace of plastic pollution. That definitely does not bode well for humanity.
As per estimates, 19 billion pounds of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year. This is expected to double by 2025. And waiting for too long to deal with plastic pollution will only end up taking us to a point of no return where it will become nearly impossible to manage the damage caused by plastic waste.