Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Climate Matters. P is for Plastics and pollution.

This post is for P in the A-Z Blogging Challenge 2012. Link in the sidebar.

Stopping the pollution caused by plastics is a choice. 

Plastic is an amazing commodity in our world, without it we’d feel lost. It can be strong, pliable, can be shaped and coloured, bent and broken. It’s used in everything from cars, planes, watersports, clothing, spectacles, books, to furniture and picnic utensils. It’s hard to imagine a time when plastic wasn’t an integral part of life. It’s a by-product from the discovery of oil; and a most remarkable and useful byproduct it is!

In its production phase, plastic can be blended with other chemicals to improve its performance for a specific use or to make it cheaper or more attractive and colourful to beguile children as a cheap “throw-away” toy in a fast food take away meal.

Unfortunately, some of these chemicals leach out over time when the product has been discarded and find their way into waterways, rivers, groundwater and oceans. Individually, the casual “fling” of a disposable item doesn’t seem much, and when it’s out of sight, it’ll most likely be out of mind. Gone. Away. Forever.

But disposable isn’t the same as biodegradable. Biodegradable plastics may eventually break down in sunlight and water, but they don’t disappear entirely and the process can take hundreds or thousands of years.

Interestingly, even items like plastic take away food containers may contain toxic compounds which assist in the production phase. Apparently it doesn’t affect food quality, but may leach out when they begin to degrade.

Many people find the vapours released by synthetic carpets, pillows or furnishings leads to nausea and in extreme cases shortness of breath or dizziness. They find that their bodies react more favourable to natural products and fabrics.

Drink bottles are now marked as being BPA free as it is feared that when it leaches into fluids or food stuffs, it could be carcinogenic or lead to insulin resistance or heart disease. Tin cans are often also lined with BPA but they haven’t received the same attention as yet.

Recycling of plastics can be problematic because there are so many varieties. It’s a labour intensive process, as workers need to read the code saying what each sort of plastic is. Some products are made from a number of different plastic compounds which need to be recycled in different ways, making the process somewhat complex which may not be an economically viable proposition.

Landfill is then energetically filled with polystyrene, bottle caps, and incinerators are fed with other non recyclable materials, belching toxic fumes into our atmosphere.

Plastic is an amazing substance, but it’s not something you’d want to eat. It has no nutritional value, is often impregnated with toxins and doesn’t pass through the gut easily. Unfortunately, as some discarded plastics break down, fish and animals including turtles may mistake them for food. Whereas a dog may be able to regurgitate plastic, or have it pass through their gut with little ill effect, many other creatures don’t have this ability. Cows and turtles are two types of animal that will die if they consume plastic bags. They can’t vomit, and the plastic clogs up the intestine or stomach, leading to death.

Other creatures are curious by nature - a plastic bag floating in the ocean may become a toy for a juvenile seal or dolphin, but if they happen to ingest it, it can lead to death.

Predators consume prey which has eaten plastic - if that animal is eaten before it dies of starvation, the predator could well aslo suffer from malnutrition or starvation in turn.
To watch a bird, animal or sea creature slowly die from being entangled in plastic and not be able to help by untangling or killing it quickly is distressing. A bird with fishing line and debris tangled around its foot is unable to land. A platypus caught in a 6 pack ring can’t feed and slowly starves. A juvenile seal tangled in discarded fishing net drowns; not one animal, but hundreds if not thousands. Parents turn away in disgust and hurry their children away from the unpleasant sights.

If you can’t see it, it’s easier to pretend it's not happening – but in there is a lesson: Whether the plastic is fishing line, plastic bag, 6 pack rings or whatever, it’s our laziness, carelessness or belief that “it’s not my problem” that has led to this outcome. It’s hard to find places in the world that aren’t affected with plastic debris. In countless parks and beachside picnic areas you can wade through assorted plastics including straws, plates, cutlery, drinking vessels and plastic containers thrown “away” by family picnickers after a cheery, sunny weekend. Our Earth, our Shangri-La has become a toxic, plastic filled waste-dump.

This is our problem...

and that of those who may inhabit the Earth thousands of years in the future.

Last year I wrote about PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder & workplace bullying for the letter P - and Penguins here.


Tammy said...

Thanks for the reminder...........
Plastic has just become so commonplace that we forget the long term effects.

Jessica Salyer said...

I've been trying to be really aware of my plastic comsumption. I try not to buy water bottles, but instead bring my own. (and it is BPA free) Whatever plastic I do use, I make sure I recycle. Thanks for all the information.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. plastic is a huge problem .. and those plastic islands floating in the Pacific are awful .. they're so big.

I don't use much plastic and recycle appropriately ..

The world has lots of problems .. and this will get worse .. plastic is a thing for nightmares .. cheers Hilary

Anonymous said...

The planet has become one huge garbage dump...I hope our species never makes it to another planet..we'll just do the same thing there.

The Armchair Squid said...

Powerful stuff. Found you through A-Z. Good luck with the rest of the alphabet.

sue said...

Tammy, it's often when I'm down at the beach that I'm forcefully reminded of the ubiquitous nature of plastic and the damage it causes for far too many years.

Jessica, it's very difficult to cut down on plastics, we do the same and reuse bags till they fall apart, then recycle.

Hilary, I was horrified when I saw the islands of plastic. they're disgusting, and as you say the stuff of nightmares.

Delores, I agree, the thought of us wrecking the same damage elsewhere is frightening.

Armchair Squid - thankyou!

a.eye said...

One of my students was shocked that I have had my Sigg water bottle for 5 years since she is used to just buying and throwing hers away.

Always good to be reminded of this. I always cut packaging with the bottle holders, but it would be better for me to remember not to buy those items in the first place.

a.eye said...

One of my students was shocked that I have had my Sigg water bottle for 5 years since she is used to just buying and throwing hers away.

Always good to be reminded of this. I always cut packaging with the bottle holders, but it would be better for me to remember not to buy those items in the first place.