The Great Flood of 2017: Plastic Pollution
By CS Sherin
July 22, 2017
There is a great flood that threatens all life on the planet. It is a flood that has been building since the 1950’s. It is the flood of plastic pollution, and it is profoundly out of control. This event is illustrated in two charts, as reported by Zoe Schlanger on July 19, 2017 for Quartz (qz.com): “The World’s Plastic Problem, In Two Charts.”
Plastic pollution in the ocean was first seen in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s, but steady production of plastics in the US began during WWII.
The first chart in the article includes both plastic resin and fiber. The growth from the 50’s to now is staggering.
A study published by Science Advances on July 19, 2017 stated that: “As of 2015, approximately 6300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated…If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 Mt of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050.” (Source: Advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782/tab-pdf.)Science Advances, 19 JUL 2017 : Vol. 3, no. 7, E1700782,DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782.
The second chart illustrates that in 2015 alone 407 million metric tons of plastics were produced, and 302 million metric tons of plastics were disposed of. The article goes on to explain that only 9% of that 302 million tons thrown out was recycled. And, 12% of the plastic thrown away was burned. Plastic breaks down, but it never totally goes away, nor does it fully break down. Plastic remains as it is, more or less, or breaks down into microscopic pieces that attract toxins, and is toxic.
Tatiana Schlossberg covered the same study on July 19, 2017 for The New York Times (online). That article, “The Immense, Eternal Footprint Humanity Leaves on Earth,” highlights that plastic packaging alone makes up a significant percentage of what is thrown away. The article also looks at the unintended legacy humanity will leave behind in plastics, as well as the importance of a study like this that measures this immense problem in detail.
There is a chapter in Recipe For A Green Life, called “The Problem With Plastics And What To Use Instead.” In that chapter (pages 98-125) the subsections cover the ins and outs of aiming to eliminate disposable plastics, plastic history, plastic pollution facts (including microplastic and microfiber pollution), the details of numbered plastics, biodegradable plastics, miscellaneous plastics and related chemicals, scientific discoveries that give glimmers of hope in dealing with the catastrophic amount of plastics in our environment near and far, plastic bans around the world, and navigating the snags and tricky terrain of becoming more free of plastics in daily life choices. It is a well-rounded resource, and integral piece that supports a holistic approach to sustainable living.
In addition to that resource for you within my book, Recipe For A Green Life, the information on this page gives you an important look at the epidemic we face, highlighted via news reports from this year, so far, as we are a little more than half way through 2017. Also included below, are some resources and ideas for your everyday life in relation to disposable plastics and related issues. The good news is, awareness of the plastic pollution crisis is cresting in the mainstream, even though it is not enough yet. Facts are facts. We must pay attention to this issue and act. So, let’s go forward with our eyes wide open and do everything we can to make amends to our collective health, the environment as a whole, and our future. Please join me and others who recognize the reality we face, and commit to doing all we can each day to change this negative tide of toxic plastics for the present and future generations of life.
A precursor to the following section, I want to include mention of this article: “Why The Ocean Is Key To Climate Protection” by Irene Quail, Deustche Welle, June 9, 2016. This is a foundational perspective. Also, it is important to remember that plastic pollution not only affects Earth’s ocean, but also our lakes, rivers, and other inland waterways. We must work and act to protect all water.
Some of the Big Stories on Plastic Pollution in the News, so far, In 2017
“The Great Lint Migration” by Melody Bomgardner, Chemical & Engineering News (Vol. 95 Iss. 2 pp. 16-17), January 9, 2017.
“Seafood Eaters Ingest Up To 11,000 Tiny Pieces Of Plastic Each Year, Study Shows” by Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph, January 24, 2017.
“Whale Found Dying Off Coast Of Norway With 30 Plastic Bags In Its Stomach” by Helena Horton, The Telegraph, February 3, 2017.
“Banned Chemicals Persist In Deep Ocean” by Paul Rincon, BBC News website, February 13, 2017.
“Extraordinary Levels of Pollutants Found in 10km Deep Mariana Trench” by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, February 13, 2017.
“Plastic ‘Nurdles’ Found Littering UK Beaches,” BBC News, February 17, 2017.
“Scientists Discover Surprising Source Of Pollution: Our Closets” by Kate Payne, WFSU News, March 17, 2017.
“Trillions of Plastic Bits, Swept Up By Current, Are Littering Arctic Waters” by Tatiana Schlossberg, The New York Times, April 19, 2017.
“This Bug Can Eat Plastic. But Can It Clean Up Our Mess?” by Carrie Arnold, National Geographic, April 24, 2017.
“This Idyllic Remote Island Has No Residents But 17 Tons of Plastic Waste” by Elle Hunt, Tech Insider, May 16, 2017.
“Plastic In Rivers Major Source Of Ocean Pollution, ” Phys.org, June 8, 2017.
“A Million Bottles A Minute: World’s Plastic Binge ‘As Dangerous As Climate Change‘” by Sandra Laville, The Guardian, June 28, 2017.
“These Ocean Plastic Collectors Might End Up Collecting More Silicon Valley Money Than Trash” by Alessandra Potenza, The Verge, July 13, 2017.
“Plastic Pollution Risks ‘Near Permanent Contamination Of Natural Environment” by Matthew Taylor, The Guardian, July 19, 2017.
“The World’s Plastic Problem, In Two Charts” by Zoe Schlanger, Quartz, July 19, 2017.
Yesterday I posted the 10 First Steps to help you begin a more holistic and sustainable lifestyle. Steps one (refusing consumerism), two (aiming for zero waste) and four (aim to eliminate single-use plastics) all, in some way, address single-use disposable plastics and related items. Step five, “Give up harmful products and habits” includes examples of alternatives to several approaches and products, including some plastics. Let’s look at the plastic alternatives from that step more closely:
Cigarette Butts Pollution: Quit smoking. Or, roll your organic tobacco in hemp papers until you do.
Plastic Lighter Pollution: Instead, use a hemp wick dispenser, a refillable stainless steel lighter, or sustainable wood-sourced matches.
Plastic Drinking Straws Pollution: Invest in stainless steel, glass, paper, or bamboo drinking straws.
Balloon Pollution: Find reusable and unique decor for celebrations–like ribbon dancers, paper kites, and scrap fabric streamers.
Glow Stick Pollution: Use the flashlight on your phone, or a recycled paper lantern with a reusable warm-colored LED light inside.
Polystyrene Foam Pollution: Choose reusable stainless steel or heat-resistant glass containers or sustainable-certified biodegradable recycled paper and cardboard containers instead. There is even mushroom based packaging available that is completely biodegradable.
- “Plastic Bags-Fact Sheet,” Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Factsheet No. PF-004, revised November 2008, https://www.sprep.org/attachments/Publications/FactSheet/plasticbags.pdf. https://www.sprep.org/factsheets-archive/factsheet-archive.
- “Plastic Bags Fact Sheet,” Earth Policy Institute, October 16, 2014, http://www.earth-policy.org/press_room/C68/plastic_bags_fact_sheet.
- Parley For The Oceans
- State Plastic Bag Legislation
- Ecology Center: Adverse Effects of Plastics
- Columbia University: What Happens To All That Plastic?
- Arizona State University: Perils of Plastics
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