Imagine creating a product that could never be destroyed – and mass producing it on a global scale. That is plastic. The production of plastic invokes a heavily resource-extractive and pollutant-emitting process to create a product that can almost never be destroyed.
What makes plastic so attractive?
Plastic is extremely cheap to make. It is made from various nonrenewable elements, including crude oil and natural gas (two of the most common fossil fuels). Despite these two nonrenewable resources being cheap, they emit a lot of greenhouse gases during their extraction, as well as when they are used to produce a product. Still, plastic is lighter and more flexible than many other materials, making it an attractive container option for many industries.
“There is no such thing as ‘away'”
This quote by Annie Leonard (executive director of Greenpeace USA) perfectly sums up just how impossible it is to get rid of plastic. Due to its highly synthetic makeup, plastic must either be burned or buried, both of which are processes that emit high amounts of toxic chemicals into the air. Even the plastics labeled as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘recyclable’ must be broken down by industrial facilities. Due to the mass production and proliferation of plastics, they’ve even ended up in some of the most remote places in the world, such as the Mariana Trench, Mount Everest, and many uninhabited islands.
Not In My Backyard, or NIMBY is the protest that affluent homeowners pull out when there is threat of a landfill or other environmental “bad” coming near their neighborhood. This sentiment is what results in marginalized communities being disproportionately subjected to harmful air pollution, water pollution, and/or noise pollution. Because marginalized communities historically do not have as much political power as their counterparts, they cannot fight these environmental “bads” to the same extent that their counterparts can. With 380 million tons of plastic waste being produced a year globally, there are more landfills being created that end up in marginalized communities, or encroaching on wildlife habitats.
Plastic particles 5mm or smaller are defined as microplastics. Microplastics are dangerous because they can be in a lot of places that regular sized plastics cannot. Due to the nature of gravity, microplastics naturally gather in waterways that eventually lead to the ocean. These microplastics cause severe damage to marine ecosystems, especially the animals.
Microplastics can go through a process called bioaccumulation. This is essentially when particles gather in an organism at a faster rate than the organism is able to get rid of them. Pesticides are another example of a particle than can bioaccumulate. This process is extremely dangerous as it can damage DNA, stunt growth, and harm reproductive organs. Microplastics pose the biggest threat to marine life, but humans are also at risk due to tap water being a major source of microplastics. Lastly, buried microplastics damage soil quality by attacking its vital bacteria and insects.
There is hope.
Corporations and small businesses have started redesigning products and packaging to lessen or eliminate plastic use. Below are some examples of eco-business models to seek out!
- Daydrink, a local coffee shop in Iowa City, only uses reusable mugs and glass jars to serve its product, promoting a closed-loop system. Glass is infinitely recyclable and reusable, making it a sustainable alternative compared to plastic and even paper. Click the button below to learn more about the benefits of Daydrink’s sustainable business model!
- Refill Stores: Be on the lookout for businesses that offer refills of soaps, cleaning products, and bulk foods. This will cut down on plastic packaging.
- Seek out beauty brands that advertise eco-friendly products. Avoid products that contain microbeads at all costs.
- Find stores that sell bulk items. Bulk packaging uses less overall plastic compared to smaller containers.
Not only are you supporting local economies when you seek out eco-conscious businesses, but you’re supporting the continuation of these business models AND you’re lowering your carbon footprint!
What can YOU do?
Below are four quick ways that you can reduce your personal plastic consumption.