In light of consumerism habits today, mainly in developed countries, it is frightening to think of the plastic waste we accumulate. Since plastic use took off in the 1950’s, our waste has increased exponentially. This toxic, non-biodegradable substance has continued to plague our planet in many ways such as the multiple floating islands of plastic in our ocean and the dioxins released when burning plastic. And while there is an assortment of anthropogenic environmental issues today, I think plastic may seem the most threatening to me because it is something I have become extremely conscious of in all aspects of my life.
With every other environmental issue today, we have an idea of how it is impacting and how it will impact our ecosystems. We are already starting to see an increase in weather variability and natural disasters. Climate-induced migration is a very real problem occurring today. Also, each day, we are losing entire species and experiencing decreases in biodiversity. We can only expect these issues to worsen. And for the most part, we know the direct cause and the direct effect. However, we truly do not know the long-term effect of plastic and especially, micro-plastics on our earth.
Industrialization, along with greed and ignorance, over the last century have caused an imbalance in our environment that we may never recover from. In relation to plastic, we see a devastating impact from its production to its decomposition. Plastic is produced from non-renewable resources such as oil that break down into even more harmful toxins. And yet, almost all that we buy is made from or packaged in plastic. Many of these plastics may be single-use, but even “reusable” plastics end up in our landfills or ocean. After all, only 9% of all plastic ever produced has ever been recycled.
In America, we pass on a majority of our plastic waste to developing countries for them to struggle with the sorting and disposal. Now, after the China plastic ban, developing countries are struggling even more to handle our disastrous consumerism. As I studied abroad in Tanzania, I saw each person burn all of their plastic and other trash in the back of their house without knowing how harmful it is to them or the overall pollution. Also, without any other alternative for disposal. Each society has its own way of poorly disposing of it, and we produce too much to properly handle it.
Although there are increasing eco-friendly alternatives to plastic, it will take a long time if people will ever at all ditch single-use plastics. I’m terrified that we don’t know the long-term effects of plastic. I’m terrified of the way it has become an integral part of our everyday lives so much so that we don’t know how to live without it. I’m terrified of the way we attempt to dispose of it. And I’m terrified that we will not learn conscious consumerism in time to make a difference. In the end, it is terrifying to me how a man-made substance that has revolutionized our world could be the environmental issue that largely causes our extinction.
Isn’t it terrifying to you that the geological indicator of the Anthropocene era could be plastic?