Single-use plastic is found everywhere within our homes and where we work. It is now infiltrating our oceans, forests, and other natural ecosystems.
What is Single-Use Plastic and Why is it Harmful to the Environment?
Single-use plastic is plastic that is intended to be used once, and then discarded. They are primarily used for packaging, bottles, wrappers, straws, bags, etc. They are made up of “fossil fuel-based chemicals” known as petrochemicals that are harmful to the environment (NRDC,2020).
Single-use plastic is not biodegradable thus, when tossed on the ground it is not absorbed but broken down slowly into microplastics that persist in the environment and continue to pollute it for a long time. The petrochemical constituents in the plastic seep into waters, soils, and forests and create an inhabitable environment for humans and species.
About 86% of plastic waste in Canada ends up in landfills or is burned (Oceana, 2021). This suggests that even a plastic product which is labeled “recyclable” is most likely going to be landfilled or burned. Disposing of plastic products leads to the emission of greenhouse gasses. These gasses contribute to global warming and could also affect human health due to the gasses being toxic (NCC, 2021). Also, when plastic products are discarded, their constituents often end up infiltrating nearby soils and waters, thus polluting the habitat of humans and numerous species. Around 700 species are endangered due to single-use plastic being discarded in their habitat (NCC, 2021). For example, traces of fishing gear, plastic bags, and other plastic products have been found in different aquatic species. Since plastics can resemble what may look like food to animals, they could end up ingesting these plastics when found in their habitat. This negatively affects these animals and could contribute to their extinction.
Microplastics are also being found within humans. Since plastics are being disposed of improperly and degrade slowly, microplastics can attach to food and water and circulate in the atmosphere, being ingested by humans (Carrington, 2022). Although there is differing research on the direct impact microplastics have on human health, we need to ensure that we can reduce any impact they may or may not have on humans to ensure there is no significant impact in the future (Plastic Health Coalition).
5 Ways of Avoiding Single-Use Plastic
- Do not buy plastic products, and if needed, ensure that you can re-use the packaging/ product.
- Bring a reusable bag, travel mug, cutlery, and water bottle to avoid purchasing/ using plastic items. This will reduce the number of single-use plastics that are being made.
- When storing your food, opt for glass containers. They are more robust and more durable as compared to plastic ones.
- Skip the straw! Or, if required, bring a reusable straw.
- Shop sustainably; if your clothes are made with plastics, try to choose another option.
Canada’s plastic problem: Sorting fact from fiction – Oceana Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://oceana.ca/en/blog/canadas-plastic-problem-sorting-fact-fiction/
Microplastics found in human blood for first time | Plastics | The Guardian. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/24/microplastics-found-in-human-blood-for-first-time
NCC: Land Lines – The effects of single-use plastic on the environment. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/blog/the-effects-of-single-use-plastic.html#.YoVGrOzMIeU
Plastics 101 | How to Stop Plastic Pollution in the Ocean | Plastic Tides. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.plastictides.org/plastics101/?gclid=CjwKCAjwj42UBhAAEiwACIhADoswIa8iiuMcF73WAcjKSBu5o_VMmLQak1JR-zD21RnIfVoPPK3ofRoCCLwQAvD_BwE
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