Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic objects and particles (e.g.: plastic bottles and much more) in the Earth’s environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, and humans. Plastics that act as pollutants are categorized into micro-, meso-, or macro debris, based on size. Plastics are inexpensive and durable, and as a result levels of plastic production by humans are high. 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. Together, these two factors have led to a high prominence of plastic pollution in the environment.
Plastic pollution can afflict land, waterways and oceans. It is estimated that 1.1 to 8.8 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste enters the ocean from coastal communities each year. Living organisms, particularly marine animals, can be harmed either by mechanical effects, such as entanglement in plastic objects, problems related to ingestion of plastic waste, or through exposure to chemicals within plastics that interfere with their physiology. Effects on humans include disruption of various hormonal mechanisms.
As of 2018, about 380 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide each year. From the 1950s up to 2018, an estimated 6.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced worldwide, of which an estimated 9% has been recycled and another 12% has been incinerated. This large amount of plastic waste enters the environment, with studies suggesting that the bodies of 90% of seabirds contain plastic debris. In some areas there have been significant efforts to reduce the prominence of free range plastic pollution, through reducing plastic consumption, litter cleanup, and promoting plastic recycling.
Some researchers suggest that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by weight.
Serious Effects of Plastic Pollution
It seems rather obvious that this amount of a material that isn’t meant to break down can wreak havoc on natural environments, leading to long-term issues for plants, animals, and people. Some of the major long-term effects of plastic pollution are:
1. It Upsets the Food Chain
Because it comes in sizes large and small, polluting plastics even affect the world’s tiniest organisms such as plankton. When these organisms become poisoned due to plastic ingestion, this causes problems for the larger animals that depend on them for food. This can cause a whole slew of problems, each step further along the food chain. Plus, it means that plastic are present in the fish that many people eat everyday.
2. Groundwater Pollution
Water conservation is already a concern in places ranging from California to parts of India, but the world’s water is in great danger because of leaking plastics and waste. If you’ve ever seen a garbage dump, imagine what happens every time it rains – then imagine that being in your drinking water. Groundwater and reservoirs are susceptible to leaking environmental toxins.
Most of the litter and pollution affecting the world’s oceans also derives from plastics. This has had terrible consequences on many marine species, which can lead to consequences for those that eat fish and marine life for nutrients – including people.
3. Land Pollution
When plastic is dumped in landfills, it interacts with water and form hazardous chemicals. When these chemicals seep underground, they degrade the water quality. Wind carries and deposits plastic from one place to another, increasing the land litter. It can also get stuck on poles, traffic lights, trees, fences, tower etc. and animals that may come in the vicinity and might suffocate them to death.
4. Air Pollution
Burning of plastic in the open air, leads to environmental pollution due to the release of poisonous chemicals. The polluted air when inhaled by humans and animals affect their health and can cause respiratory problems.
5. It Kills Animals
Despite countless TV ads over the years showing ducks or dolphins trapped in six-ring plastic can holders, these items are still used and discarded en masse each day. Whether because the mass of plastic has displaced animals or the related toxins have poisoned them, plastic pollution does a lot of damage to the world’s ecosystems.
6. It is Poisonous
Man artificially makes plastic by using a number of toxic chemicals. Therefore, the use of and exposure to plastics has been linked to a number of health concerns affecting people around the world. The processes of making, storing, disposing of, and just being around plastics can be extremely harmful to living things.
7. It is Expensive
It costs millions of dollars each year to clean affected areas after exposure, not to mention the loss of life to plants, animals, and people. As land becomes more valuable, just finding a place to put garbage is becoming a problem in many parts of the world.
Plus, excess pollution leads to decreased tourism in affected areas, significantly impacting those economies.