The first plastic product that was ever created was based on a synthetic polymer made from phenol and formaldehyde, with the first viable and cheap synthesis methods invented in 1907, by Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian-born American living in New York state. We doubt that Baekeland had any inkling as to how ubiquitous plastic would become in society or more importantly, the magnitude of the destruction that would be caused by it. In case you haven’t heard, we have a huge plastic problem on our hands. While, yes, of course, plastic is incredibly convenient, versatile, and low-cost, it is also incredibly damaging to our environment. Unlike other materials, plastic never truly goes away, instead breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces over time. Long before it breaks down into these particles, however, it floats around in the ocean. In fact, 8.8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans ever year.
In addition to polluting the oceans, these plastic materials pose a serious threat for hundreds of marine animals, in fact, around 700 marine species are in danger of extinction thanks to our plastic habit. These animals are threatened by entanglement, ingestion, and toxin exposure – and if nothing is done to lessen the amount of plastic in the oceans, this problem will only persist and increase. When animals are not being harmed by plastic, they are becoming startlingly accustomed to it. We’ve seen a crab use discarded plastic as a makeshift shell, a bird cozy up in a plastic container as if it was a nest, and a deer play with plastic as if it was a toy.
When animals are surrounded by plastic in this manner, there is no doubt they are getting a skewed perception of what their habitat should really be like. To make matters worse, we essentially have no way of warning these animals of the great harm plastic can have on their health, and therefore, are setting them up for disaster. In fact, considering the detrimental effects plastic has on our environment, our groundwater, and our ocean, we’re setting ourselves up for disaster as well…
What You Can Do
While efforts are being made to remove debris from the oceans, improve recycling systems, and innovate barriers to prevent plastic from getting into waterways, we can all take action in our daily lives to stop plastic waste at the source.
“Plastic is ubiquitous in modern society and seemingly unavoidable. But is it worth risking the lives of marine species, the health of the oceans and our own future in the name of convenience? By taking steps to minimize everyday plastics in our lives, we can crush plastic at the source and give marine life a fighting chance,” says Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of One Green Planet.
If we all make an effort to identify where we use plastic and actively look for alternatives, we can drastically cut down on the amount of plastic pollution that finds its way into the oceans.