The Downside of Plastic Use
Written at the eleventh hour by Jade Smith
Plastic is a major part of human life. We eat and drink out of it. Kids play with it at school. We store our belongings in it. We drive around in it. We use it to clean our households. We wear it. We even eat it… wait. We do? It’s true, plastic has found its way from our hands into our ecosystem, and here’s how.
The general public should work toward abolishing unnecessary plastic usage. Even if plastic is disposed of responsibly (thrown into recycling bins), it can easily be blown out and be carried hundreds of miles out to sea. There, it can either be consumed by ocean life, become incorporated into a larger trash mass (the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), or break down into tiny particles known as microplastics. After prolonged exposure to sunlight, heat, storms, and rough waves, plastic loses all durability and crumbles to dust. The particles are scattered throughout the ocean, tainting the water and mixing with mud on the seabed. If washed up onto beaches, microplastics become blended with the sand on the bank. Microplastics are very hazardous to marine life. They have been proven to alter the metabolism, fertility, growth, development, behaviour and mortality of marine life when ingested, directly or indirectly. Tainted sand can pose a potential hazard to foragers like sandpipers and curlews. If not consumed by wildlife, the microplastics will enter a water-treatment facility, which cannot filter them out due to their diminutive size. As a result, tap water is at constant risk of contamination, and common house products like toothpaste have been shown to consist of up to 10% microplastics.
Plastics, once we get rid of them by throwing them away, will always come back one way or another. If they reach the ocean, break down into micro- and nanoplastics, and are ingested by fish or other marine life that act as a food source for humans, when that aquatic life is netted and cooked in a restaurant or in a home, anyone who eats the seafood will also be ingesting those harmful chemicals. Effects that microplastics have on marine life aren’t just limited to the ocean-dwellers. In humans, microplastics have been observed to cause cell wall and tissue damage, especially in children and teens.
It’s easy to imagine that, because microplastics are so small, they could have no noticeable effect on humans, and that avoidance of seafood could offer a solution, at least for humans, to this supposed problem. However, one of plastic’s most dangerous qualities is that it lasts virtually forever. One small bit of it is ingested by an organism, and is typically not flushed out or broken down. It remains in the tissue, and will continue to build up until it reaches dangerous levels. Secondly, avoiding seafood will do little to inhibit the spread of microplastics throughout our bodies. They are just as commonly found in drinking water or household dust, and just as toxic.
What can we do to change this? Doing things to avoid unnecessary plastic usage, however small, has a measurable effect on the planet. Boycotting plastic shopping bags, plastic straws, and liquid soap are real campaigns that environmentally-conscious individuals have partaken of. Some stores have even banned the sale and usage of plastic bags. It all matters. So, please do your part to preserve our health and our ocean life. If you see an acquaintance using a plastic straw, for instance, it’s alright to tell him that he should try to avoid that in future. He’ll understand. After all, there is no Earth B.