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The Environmental Problem with Plastic

It seems like plastic is everywhere you look. From the cars we drive to the products we consume, from the pipes in our lawns to the brushes we use in our bathrooms. If plastic is everywhere how can it be so bad?

Our oceans are the source of most of the earths oxygen and are an integral part of our global ecosystem. The waste we create from our plastic addiction is literally threatening our oceans. According to the Californians Against Waste (CAW), “In some of the most polluted areas of the Pacific, plastic already outweighs plankton by a factor of six!”

According to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle there is a “a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that’s twice the size of Texas.” This continent sized debris heap has been titled the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by marine biologists. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is comprised of literally millions of points of trash – most of it plastic. In 2006 the United Nations Environment Program estimated that in each square mile of ocean you can find 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. It is literally the world’s largest landfill, and it is floating in the Pacific ocean.

From Our Litter to Our Oceans

How does the plastic bag you took home from the grocery store end up in the Pacific ocean? Up to 90% of the plastic found in our oceans sadly comes from urban runoff.

A Growing Epidemic

While more and more waste collects, more is being created. In the past 20 years plastic production has doubled and is still continuing to expand. With plastic products offering manufacturers a lifespan of 1,000 years unless consumers respond to this issue, it will only grow.

The amount of plastic found in our oceans is having a profound effect on many different animals. Some biologists estimate that millions of birds and other marine species have simply died from starvation or some sort of poisoning after mistakenly ingesting plastic when looking for food. Our dwindling sea turtle population is at extreme risk.

An Impossible Problem

According to the United Nations Environment Program we are facing what some may consider an impossible problem, they state that in “some areas, big fragments can be collected, but it’s simply not possible to thoroughly clean a section of ocean that spans the area of a continent and extends 100 feet below the surface.”

Our only real solution is managing our waste on land before it reaches our oceans.

Can Plastic Be Recycled?

While plastic can be recycled its not a cut and dry process. Recycling petrochemical resins or plastics is both an expensive and complicated process. When plastic are recycled post-consumer they are usually ” downcycled.” When a plastic food container is downcycled it is reused, but it will never qualify as food grade plastic again. Each time the plastic is downcycled some level of value is lost. If any product requires downcycling it should not be considered a sustainable option.

What About All My Plastic Shopping Bags?

As many cities are banning plastic bags, many supermarket chains are following suit. Many consumers are literally left holding the bag. If you find yourself in this situation, remember even downcycling is a better option than creating landfill waste. If you have a large quantity of plastic grocery bags and need to recycle them but have no convenient location then try the following website which offers a searchable database of plastic bag recycling locations:

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