Every day we are bombed with disruptive and sad news about what is going on in the world. War, robbery, injustice, and crisis are some of the words in the headlines of the news. But how often do we see the environment as the main character of these headlines? Everyone knows that Earth is in great danger, but why don’t we focus on what is being done to address the issue? We are always talking about the ways and paths we can take to be more sustainable, but have you asked yourself what can you do to help the planet? You are surrounded by one of the major problems: plastic water bottles, supermarket plastic bag, and even in the fibers of our clothes. Plastic is everywhere. Plastics are a major contributor to global warming and climate disruption because they promote climate change, environmental pollution, and public health issues.
About 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels — petrochemical raw materials such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas — the biggest villains of climate change. The process of extracting, transporting, and manufacturing plastic releases thousands of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In addition, plastics take up to 1,000 years to decompose in the environment. Unfortunately, plastic will not go away from our lives; their use is almost unavoidable, but we need to acknowledge that plastic waste is a problem. Leading to this emergent problem is the fact that many of these plastics are manufactured just to be used once and then thrown away. We walk around public places, colleges, and universities and we see the recycling bin around and we think that every plastic bottle we throw in there will be recycled. The truth turns out to be quite the opposite. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “The world is producing twice as much plastic waste as two decades ago, with the bulk of it ending up in landfill, incinerated, or leaking into the environment, and only 9% successfully recycled.”
Plastics are a matter of public health. No community should carry the burden of plastic pollution. As stated by the United Nations, “Approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic produced from 1950–2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped.” Tons of plastic are burned in landfills, a process that releases toxic pollution, harming the surrounding communities — especially low-income communities. Plastic contains chemical additives that harm human health, like bisphenol A in baby bottles, but most of these chemicals’ impact on human health remains unknown. Polluting the landscape of the cities, and the beaches on the coastline, plastic causes visual pollution and damage to the ecosystems.
Have you ever imagined that by heating your lunch in a plastic container in the microwave you will also eat tiny specks of plastic from this container? Those are called microplastics, tiny little pieces of plastics that are present in the air, water, and even the clothes you wear. They can be found in many shapes, sizes, and compositions, and although these particles are too small for you to see, microplastics represent a huge emerging problem that will. The plastic that we see every day on the streets will continue to degrade and break into pieces that are impossible to collect or clean. However, one of the biggest sources of microplastics is synthetic clothes mainly because of the mechanical and chemical stresses that fabrics undergo during the washing process in a laundry machine. As a result, these particles end up in the water and can not be treated by the wastewater treatment plant.
Plastic is also an ocean issue. Animals mistake brightly colored plastic pieces for food. The cycle continues in the food chain until it gets to the tuna you are eating today for dinner. Many marine animals will die trying to digest the plastic trash in their bellies. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) “Plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine pollution and around 8 to 10 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year” and “by 2050, plastic will likely outweigh all fish in the sea.”
Finally, we need to move away from single-plastic use right now. The constant output of waste is killing the earth. We need to find creative solutions to this crisis and design better alternatives.
The clock is ticking. To break free from plastic we must demand global policies, better options, and choices that will be safer for our communities. At a time we need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, the president of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference is an oil CEO. If we do not address plastic pollution from a global perspective, we will not thrive.
Gabriela Sampaio is a student at Northampton Community College. She wants to impact the community and achieve long-term outcomes for a more conscious society. Gabriela is an international student, and when she finishes at NCC she plans to return to Brazil and complete her degree in Materials Engineering there.
- SLV 2023 Table of Contents
- Voices of the Valley – Alphabetic List of Authors
- Sustainable Lehigh Valley booklet