Reasons Why Plastic is so Harmful (And How to Avoid it)
Updated: Jun 8, 2021
It's likely you'll have saw some sort of campaign regarding plastic; whether it was how plastic straws are harming turtles, or that 100s of plastic bags are being found inside deceased whales. Plastic straws and bags are detrimental to marine life, but they are not the only plastics causing pain and death. So although banning plastic straws and charging for plastic bags is a good step forward, it is sadly not enough to protect wildlife from the effects of plastic.
Plastic breaks down into smaller and often sharp fragments, and it has been found that this has been the ultimate cause of death of many marine animals such as whales. Smaller plastic fragments eventually break down into micro-plastics, and are ingested by smaller animals as they mistake it for plankton and other foods. This builds up in their systems and is often fatal to the animal. Plus, these smaller marine animals i.e fish, squid, shrimp etc are eaten by humans, thus the plastic contaminants are spread through the food chain. Also, as plastic breaks down, harmful chemicals are released into water ways, which is fatal to marine animals and plants. It is believed that 91% of the world's plastic is NOT recycled, instead it is insinerated (contributing to air pollution), or dumped, which ends up in oceans, lakes, parks etc.
Recycling is now becoming increasingly important to many countries, with councils being more strict on what they will and won't collect in certain bins, and targets being set to increase recycling rates. However, many of the UK's plastic is actually shipped abroad and not recycled at all. In addition to this, countries such as China are becoming more strict on what waste they will and won't take, leaving countries like the UK stuck on where they can dump their waste. This often results in it being dumped in poorer countries, where they don't have the facilities to deal with the mass abundance of waste. So although recycling is still very important, we should still be cutting back on our waste (not just plastic) to ensure our country can actually manage it.
Each year 100,000 marine animals and 1 million seabirds are killed by plastic pollution, either by consumption or from entanglement. BUT this isn't the worst of it. It is estimated that 650,000 (!!!) marine animals are killed or injured by fishing nets each year. In many cases, the animals are accidentally caught by fishermen as by-catch, dolphins are often caught this way and most horrifically die. These nets entangle larger animals and often result in them slowly drowning or suffocating. If the net is tightly wrapped around a tail or flipper, the tissue can become necrotic (death of body cells in a tissue or organ due to lack of blood flow), resulting in a loss of limb or loss of function, which leads to a slow and painful death. The nets can dig very deeply into the skin, leaving gaping wounds, causing the animal a great deal of pain. <<< Article by The Dodo where a baby seal is saved from a fishing net causing lots of pain.
Lost or abandoned fish nets cause just as much if not more damage- approximately 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is dumped or lost in our oceans every year. Fishermen fishing illegally will dump their gear to avoid being caught, but bad weather is also a major contributor to loss of fishing nets.
So what can you do to help?
1. Avoid eating seafood...or at least try to reduce consumption. Over-fishing is now a major issue and is causing huge loss to biodiversity - not just through fishing gear waste (another blog post is needed for this). I never used to eat seafood very often, and so it was easy for me to just give it up entirely, but I get this might not be the same for others, but bear in mind the impacts fishing has the next time you do your shopping. 'Dolphin safe' products are becoming increasingly popular, but be aware some companies are now greenwashing customers (faking sustainability).
2. Replace your plastic items! Click on the items to view examples. Reusable water bottle, shopping bags, glass jars (to use in zero waste shops), straws, skincare (vegan and cruelty-free too), shampoo and conditioner bars, washing up products (or make your own!), period products, food wraps, coffee mug, etc etc, Remember, don't just throw your plastic products out to get reusable ones as this is more wasteful, use them first then work your way into plastic-free living :)
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3. Cut back on overall waste. Avoid things that come in packaging which is plastic and/or isn't recyclable. For fruit and veg try to only buy those that come loose. Buying the larger option is also better too i.e bigger bottle/box, as it lasts longer with less packaging. Pick 6 individual cans rather than buy a multipack with plastic wrapped around them etc.
4. Clothing. Soooo many clothes contain plastic which many people don't know! Consumption of clothes is at an all time high, please don't contribute to the clothing waste! Buy only clothes you really want and know you will get good use out of. Try air dry more often than tumble dry. Wash at lower temperatures such as 30 degrees Celsius as this is less harsh than hotter temps!
Thanks for reading and I hope I've convinced you to work towards a more sustainable lifestyle :)