Tiny plastic particles are now ubiquitous and insidious. And the mounting pollution that swirls in ocean gyres and washes ashore on beaches poses a big threat to wildlife and ecosystems. So too, does the production of that plastic.
The plastic pollution epidemic is due to a rise in single-use plastic and an expanding 'throw-away' culture. The waste-management systems simply can't deal with the onslaught of plastic, which is why so much of it ends up in the environment. We now know that only 9% of the plastic products we use actually get recycled.
Despite the known risks of plastic pollution and concern over its mounting presence in the environment, plastic production, driven by fossil fuels like fracked gas and its component chemicals, is on pace to increase by 40% in the next 10 years. Fracking also causes harmful greenhouse gas emissions, like methane, to be released into the atmosphere, amplifying the climate crisis. The refining process and the incineration of plastic waste also further drives greenhouse emissions and hazardous pollution.
As long as petrochemical companies keep producing so much plastic and we keep using plastic for products we're meant to toss after a single use, we don't get the plastic pollution problem in the ocean under control, we threaten contaminating the entire marine food web, from phytoplankton to whales. Microplastics have also been found in terrestrial animals, soil, drinking water and, not surprisingly, in our own bodies, although it's not clear yet just how dangerous that is for people.
It's possible to cut plastic pollution — perhaps as much as 80% by 2040 — but it will take systemic change both in reducing the amount of plastic produced and in better managing the waste stream. Efforts to ban single-use plastics, as the European Union aims to do by 2021, are a positive step. So too are the circular economy laws, which have been introduced, but not yet passed, in the United States. These laws would halt the production of new petrochemical facilities and encourage businesses to take responsibility for the full lifecycle of the products they produce by requiring them to be reused, adequately recycled or composted. (source: ecowatch.com)
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