The Unintended Impact of Single-Use Plastics
By Donghui Hu
I enjoy going to parties or gatherings with friends and family, just like everyone else at the parties. People grab drinks and snacks, and I remember seeing a lot of disposable plastic cups and packages on those occasions.
I believe that if you are the host, you would realize how much plastic waste a party can produce. For the rest of us, we simply ignored the existence of single-use plastic most of the time.
Most people won’t think about where those plastic waste go, and where they end up. Then we won’t realize the damage they can bring to the environment, the ocean, or ourselves.
What are Single-use Plastics?
Single-use plastics are any plastic we use once and then throw away. These plastics are in our everyday lives, such as water bottles, snack packages, and milk containers. With a very short lifespan, becoming trash in a flash is the destiny of single-use plastic products.
We have to admit that single-use plastics are very convenient. Preparations for family gatherings or picnics in the park are way easier with plastic plates and cups. Their existence means less time to clean things up and fewer things to carry. But as convenient as plastic might be, the damage it’s causing to our environment is simply not worth it.
The Problems We Are Facing
We have become more and more addicted to single-use plastic every year. Based on the data from the article on UNEP (United Nations Environment Programmer), the world is consuming one million plastic drinking bottles every minute, while 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year.
The world produces around 150 million tons of single-use plastic each year (NDRC).
The numbers are growing, but most people are still unaware of it. The lack of awareness causes the unintended impact of single-use plastics. People have wants and needs, and most drinks and food come wrapped in single-use plastic. The problem is that plastic bags and food wrappers are hard to recycle, creating tons of waste unnecessary waste.
According to the data from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), only 8.7% of generated plastics were recycled in 2018, and more than 75% of them went to landfills. Plus, there are tons of plastics floating in the ocean and polluting our natural environment.
How did so many plastics end up in the ocean? The fact is that only ten rivers carry 93% of the world’s total amount of plastic into the oceans each year. These enormous amounts of plastics in the ocean are causing severe problems to the ecosystem.
The Life Cycle of Single-Use Plastics
Let’s break down the pathway of a single-use plastic product. Take the beverage bottle as an example, an outcome from fossil fuels. It went through many chemical processes and got molded into a bottle shape. It got filled up in production and distributed to the market. A customer bought it and drank it.
After drinking your beverage, you put the plastic bottle in the recycling bin to give it another life, but there are different scenarios of where your bottle might end up.
Many single-use plastics get lost during transportation, making their way into the ocean. There, they pollute the water and harm marine life. Animals confuse plastic for food and eat it — which leads to their death.
If it doesn’t end up in the ocean, it will likely end up in a landfill, where it continues to pollute soil and water for hundreds of years. Eventually, it will break down into microplastics that continue to harm our planet.
Since only 8.7% of plastics are recycled, the bottle you disposed of could also be incinerated, polluting the air with toxic fumes.
According to WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) organization, there are around 3 billion people in the world who rely on wild-caught and farmed seafood as a primary source of protein. However, it is confirmed by papers published in Environmental Health Perspectives that many kinds of seafood contain microplastics.
Choosing convenience over our environment is destroying essential ecosystems we all need.
The Driving Force
Of course, single-use plastics didn’t exist for no reason. Businesses are the major force behind massive plastic production. People want a more convenient and easier lifestyle. So businesses have created more and more plastics over the years to make that happen.
With the e-commerce and take-out businesses booming, companies like Amazon, DoorDash, and many others worldwide consume more single-use plastic each year. The growing market is pushing corporations to use more single-use plastics in packaging.
Moreover, single-use plastic products are cheap to make and cheap to buy. The low cost seems like a win-win for both sellers and customers. But, it’s a significant loss for the environment and the Earth.
The pollution brought by single-use plastic is hurting the planet, and don’t forget that human beings are part of it as well. We should look at this from a more significant angle. There won’t be money to make or save if we don’t even have a planet to live in.
Why The Impact Is Unintended?
When it comes to our level of consciousness, we all face one essential question: easy or hard. We tend to answer this question without thinking, why choose the hard way when we can have the easy way? The consumption of single-use plastic grew because we chose the easy path.
Many people and businesses are out there trying to make our lives easier. Using single-use plastic is a great way to achieve that. The truth is that all easy things come with consequences. When we’re going easy with single-use plastic, we’re going hard on the Earth. Hurting our planet will only do wrong to our future generations. This seems like the connection that most people miss when consuming single-use plastic.
A good lifestyle isn’t an easy one. All those beautiful outdoor places exist because people did something to conserve them. Let’s be aware of that! Everything we do, every decision we make will affect people and the planet.
Mission Work in Progress
Nowadays, we can see many photos or videos on the internet showing how dire our situation is. Seeing plastic trash in animals’ stomachs and plastic debris piled up on an island is heartbreaking.
These alarming photos and videos are pushing us to be aware of the result of plastic pollution.
There are individual supporters and activists in our neighborhood who’s been taking action. Non-profit organizations, like Ocean Blue Project and many others worldwide, are also putting in a lot of effort.
Organizing or volunteering for a beach cleanup is a great way to start. You can join Ocean Blue Project and make a positive impact immediately.
Activists are giving speeches to encourage more people to consume less single-use plastic. We, as consumers, have power, but we can only do so much.
To make fundamental changes, we need to push for legislation. Government is a strong force to reduce and eventually ban single-use plastics.
Moreover, many business supporters are making massive impacts on environmental issues. Some donate money, and some are making their businesses more sustainable.
To reduce the consumption of single-use plastics, we need enough knowledge to know how to take action. First, recognize all the single-use plastic products we used to have. Second, find sustainable replacements.
We can start with small steps. For example:
- Carrying a reusable water bottle with us all the time.
- Using a canvas bag to do grocery shopping.
- Using glasses, actual plates, and silverware for gathering dinners and parties.
We, as consumers, have the power to make changes on both ends, the manufacturing of plastic and the planet. Demand less single-use plastic products, and produce less waste to Mother Earth.
Imagine more and more people are taking these actions step by step. We can significantly impact the market and force businesses to look for a more sustainable and eco-friendly system.
What’s more? Join Ocean Blue Project and get involved! It is such a motivational thing to engage with, and why not get a quick start now with a beach cleanup. Participating in cleanup events can help the ocean recover from microplastic pollution!
Organizations like Ocean Blue Project can educate and motivate us to take action. We can start a more sustainable and healthier lifestyle by reducing single-use plastics.
Kamilo Beach, Hawaii Projects by Ocean Blue Project
Donghui Hu is a traveler, marketer currently living in Shenzhen, China. After spending five years traveling and studying in different countries, he realized how important it is to save and protect Earth.