There’s a good chance you were taught to recycle plastic at a young age. You may even have a basic idea of how bad plastic can be for the environment. But you may not realize what kind of impact plastic waste is actually having on the world and how much plastic waste you are actually contributing.
What are the dangers of plastic waste?
To understand why plastic waste is such a big deal, it’s important to understand the impact that it’s having on the environment. Plastic is made mostly from non-biodegradable products. That means that when a piece of plastic is produced, it’s going to exist for a long time. Almost every piece of plastic produced so far still exists today.
Consider this: a plastic cup will take upwards of 80 years to decompose. A plastic jug will take an estimated one million years to decompose.
What exactly does this mean for the environment?
Plastic is the cause for the following problems:
- As many as one million sea creatures die every year due to the amount of plastic present in the world’s oceans.
- Plastic waste sitting in landfills could leak pollutants into the soil and water.
- Scientists have identified the presence of plastic in or around the bodies of all documented sea turtles, 44 percent of all documented seabirds and 22 percent of all documented cetaceans.
- Sea creatures aren’t the only animals affected by plastic waste. Around 93 percent of all Americans over the age of six have tested positive for a plastic chemical called BPA. And some of the compounds used to produce plastic have potentially negative effects on human health, such as the alteration of hormones.
How much plastic waste is created?
There’s a good chance you’re not aware of how much plastic you go through on a yearly basis, not to mention on a daily basis. The more plastic you use, the more you are contributing to the negative impact that plastic has on our environment.
The following are just a few facts that show how much plastic waste you could be creating:
- The average American throws away around 185 pounds of plastic every year. It’s estimated that half of the plastic we use is used only a single time before it’s thrown away.
- As a whole, Americans go through roughly 2.5 million plastic bottles – not per year, not per day, but per hour. That means that Americans throw away around 35 billion plastic bottles each year.
- Out of the 10.5 million tons of plastic waste that’s generated by the American population every year, only one to two percent is recycled.
- More plastic has been produced over the last decade than during the entire 20th century.
- Around 500 billion plastic bags are used every year throughout the world. This means that roughly one million bags are used every minute.
- The amount of plastic waste generated every year is enough to circle the earth four times.
Where does this plastic waste end up?
Considering the fact that almost all the plastic waste produced is going to be around for a while, you might be wondering what happens to it. Even though there has been a concerted effort to get people to recycle plastic, only 6.5 percent of plastic waste is recycled. 7.7 percent ends up combusted in waste-to-energy facilities to create heat or electricity. That leaves 85.8 percent of the world’s plastic waste unaccounted for. So where does it all go?
Here are just a few of the places where the plastic waste you and the rest of the world generate ends up:
- There are roughly 46,000 pieces of plastic floating around in the world’s oceans – per square mile. Plastic accounts for 90 percent of the waste in the oceans.
- It’s estimated that there are hundreds of millions of tons of plastic debris present in swirling convergences throughout the world’s oceans. These swirling convergences cover up 40 percent of the oceans’ surfaces.
- A large amount of plastic waste ends up in the North Pacific Gyre, located off the coast of California. It’s the biggest ocean garbage site in the world. Some estimate it to be as big as the state of Texas, others as big as the continental U.S. The area has been named The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s estimated that plastic pieces in this area outnumber marine life six to one.
We are generating an unsustainable amount of plastic waste that is literally covering the surface of the world’s oceans. This plastic waste is causing severe environmental damage.
Want to do something about it? Start making easy changes to your daily routine, such as taking your own bag to the grocery store, using a reusable water bottle and recycling!