How Does Plastic Harm the Environment?
How knowledgeable do you consider yourself when it comes to environmental change? Are you closer to the newbie and keen to learn supporter or are you so clued up you could give David Attenborough a run for his money?
If you’re like most people, you’ll be somewhere in the middle, which is why here at Non Plastic Beach our latest blog focuses on how plastic harms the environment.
We’ll start by looking at the negative impact of plastic bags, a topic which has started to gain attention over the last few years but still needs further clarity.
Why are plastic bags bad for the environment?
For a long time, plastic bags were used as as a free and painless solution for carrying your weekly supermarket shop and for a range of other purposes.
It’s only recently that the damaging effects have been realised and so a 5p fee has been introduced since 2015 to discourage people from buying bags.
So why are plastic bags bad for the environment? Plastic bags are made from crude oil like other plastics. This is a problem because crude oil emits significant amounts of pollution and it means the product is not biodegradable.
According to the Natural Environment website it takes at least 400 years for a bag to biodegrade which has the following effects:
- Natural Environment estimates that approximately 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals die every year because they get strangled in bags or mistake them for food.
- In Australia, 50 million garbage bags end up as litter yearly, and the “plastic soup” patch in the Pacific Ocean (twice the size of the continental United States) is roughly 80% of the ocean.
A lot of people think that paper bags are a good alternative, but unfortunately, this isn’t true as they still negatively affect the environment.
The best alternative to plastic bags are reusable bags, which save 11 barrels of oil. At Non Plastic Beach, we feel we do our bit to discourage plastic bag usage, by offering our customers organic cotton, reusable shopping bags.
Plastic water bottles and the environment
Like with plastic bags, plastic water bottles were until recently considered an essential part of everyday life, whilst being thrown away at will. This leads to some of the following effects:
- Overflow at landfills, requiring high amounts of fossil fuel for production
- Covering the ocean surface leading to the destruction of habits and wildlife
- Importing waters from overseas requires trucks for transportation and delivery, which has a large environmental impact.
Despite the fact that tap water is declared safe for consumption by the EPA, 1500 plastic water bottles are being used every second in the United States alone.
What needs to be done? There need to be more drinking facilities with extra convenience so that people are encouraged to reuse plastic bottles rather than throw them away.
The UK has some of the best quality tap water in the world and extra water fountains/refill points will help to encourage people to turn to reusable water bottles.
At Non Plastic Beach, we produce a range of plastic bottles for multiple purposes, including Chilly’s insulated water bottle and our new range of insulated water bottles made from stainless steel, which keeps liquids hot for 12 hours or cold for 24 hours.
The effect of plastic pollution on the environment
By now you should know some of the effects that plastics have on the environment, but let's look specifically at plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution causes harm to humans, animals and plants through toxic pollutants. It can take hundreds or even thousands of years for plastic to break down so the environmental damage is long-lasting.
It affects all organisms in the food chain from tiny species like plankton through to whales. Toxins work their way up the food chain when plastic is ingested and can even be present in the fish people eat.
How plastic packaging can be reduced
Over the last 10 years, most people will have noticed the unnecessary overuse of plastic in packaging.
This is a big environmental problem, with only 14% of plastic packaging used globally making its way to recycling plants, and only 9% actually being recycled. A third is then left in fragile ecosystems, and 40% ends up in landfills.
We have already discussed the positive effects of reusing plastics, but there are some further actions that can be taken to reduce plastic packaging:
- Cook from raw materials to reduce food waste and packaging
- Cut back on unnecessary packaging by trying out scoop shops, or by buying from greengrocers and delis
- Buy loose leaf tea, rather than tea bags
- Prepare your own lunch for work or eat last night’s leftovers.
More tips on reducing plastic packaging can be found on the BBC Good Food website.
The effects of plastic cups on the environment
Coffee cups are a huge source of plastic pollution, as they contain a plastic paste known as polyethylene which helps the cup keep your coffee warm, but also prevents it from being recycled.
16 billion paper cups are used every year, leading to 6.5 million trees being cut down, 4 billion gallons of water going to waste, and enough energy to power 54,000 homes for a year also goes to waste.
You can help the environment by using reusable cups, rather than plastic or paper. This reuse and refill model is starting to be employed in supermarkets and cafes.
Should I recycle or reuse plastics?
Where possible, it’s best to avoid using plastic and to recycle as a last resort. By using reusable alternatives you don’t have to recycle.
There is evidence that some recycling has ended up being shipped abroad and even some to Asia, where it has been dumped in the rainforest, rather than recycled.
Banning plastic bags to save the environment
Progress has been made to reduce plastic usage since the introduction of fees in supermarkets. But, abroad there have been campaigns to ban plastic bags.
Several African countries, including Kenya, have banned plastic bags entirely. In Mauritius, they only use a dissolvable corn starch plastic bag in the supermarkets, even away from the tourist areas.
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, we hope you’re now looking at the plastic bag in your living room differently or the plastic bottle you bought from the supermarket.
We all are learning about the effects of plastic and there are huge steps to go in making a big difference. If you’re not already fully converted, we hope we’ve inspired you to try some new, more environmentally friendly products and we’d love it if you would consider some of our own.
Know someone that is eco mad? But, can’t decide what to buy them for their birthday or Christmas? Perhaps one of our gift cards could be the perfect present for them.