Planet over Plastic: Why It’s Important To Say No To Single-Use Plastics
Working in a spring garden.

Plastic: It is everywhere! We sleep on plastic filled pillows, clean our teeth with plastic toothbrushes, type on plastic keyboards, drink and eat food from plastic containers, wear clothes made of plastic fibers- there isn’t a day go by that we don’t encounter plastic of some kind. But why is that bad? To understand that, you first have to understand what plastic is and why it was created.

What is Plastic Anyways?

Plastic is a loose term for describing materials that can be formed and molded under heat and pressure. Prior to the 20th century, “natural” plastics were made of horn, tortoiseshell, amber, rubber, and shellac. But when these items began to be scarce, and animals began to face extinction from overharvesting, inventors began to create new semi-synthetic materials. And by 1907, the first fully synthetic plastic was born. Pioneered by Leo Baekeland, “Bakelite” combined two chemicals under heat and pressure and had a wood like appearance. It was affordable and durable and could be used in telephones, radios, and cameras, and many other things.

Then, in 1933, a team at the British Company, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), stumbled upon a polymer of ethylene by accident, and the world’s most abundant plastic, polyethylene, was born. Strong, flexible, and heat-resistant, it was used in everything to insulating radar cabling, to shopping bags, to Tupperware, and hip and knee joints. The list goes on and on. It quickly became a “wonder material”, and since it was cheap to make, it was in everything!

What’s the Problem?

Plastics of every shape and size end up in the environment and pollute our waterways and land.

Unfortunately, the chemical properties that made plastic a useful and durable material also makes it difficult to dispose of. Some types of plastic takes tens of thousands of years to degrade in a landfill. That means the very first plastics created are still on our planet, and filling our landfills and oceans. And as the plastics degrade, they break down into microscopic particles called microplastics. Scientists are only now starting to realize that these microplastics pose huge health risks to all life on our planet. And microplastics are not just in the soil or in our waterways. Some particles are so light and small, that they are airborne! Yes, they are even found in our lungs!

Not only does plastic NEVER decompose and takes a very long time to degrade, but most plastics are made to be “one and done”, or single use. With only about 9% of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic created since 1950 having been recycled, the rest is piling up in our environment. And recycling plastic isn’t simple. Not only are many items made of several different types of plastic making it difficult or impossible to recycle, but plastics lose their quality during the recycling process compared to aluminum or glass. Most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before they are no longer usable.

We Are the Solution!

So how do we fix the problem? It starts with education! Earth Day 2024’s theme is Planet over Plastics and is aimed at showing consumers that their choices matter! And then we have to take action. By choosing items made or packaged in more easily recycled materials such as metal and glass, we reduce the demand for plastic. History has shown us that most companies only change their ways when it affects their bottom lines. While there are companies that have begun to take a hard look at their practices and how they affect the planet, most companies only do so at the insistence of the consumer. In other words, it starts with us! We have to make changes in our everyday lives, one choice at a time, one person at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time. By making everyday Earth Day and always keeping our environment in mind while making choices, we can begin to turn the tide on plastics and undo the damage we have already done.

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