The Importance of Plastics to our Lives and its Contribution to the Pollution of our Environment and Littering

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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Plastics are one of the most crucial substances in this period. Their convenience and abilities are commended, however, their effects on contaminating the environment are typically ignored. Since the introduction of commercial use of plastic bags 30 years ago, there has been a decrease in the health of the environment. The littering of plastic has continued to destroy the community and aquatic life as rubbish gathers in the Great Pacific Trash Patch. Due to plastic’s slow rate of biodegrading, it will certainly affect future generations negatively as they will struggle to live in an uncontaminated world.

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Plastic bags are used widely throughout the world for their convenience and simplicity, but their negative effects on the ecosystem are not so easily observable. Around 1 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded annually worldwide. Australia contributes 3.92 billion of plastic bags to this total. Out of the 3.92 billion, 3.76 billion are disposed of in landfill sites across Australia. It is also estimated that 50 million plastic bags enter the litter stream each year in Australia. Australians are the second highest producers of waste, behind America, which produces 728 kg of waste a year per person, while Australians produce 690 kg a year per person. Because of this plastic waste, thousands of animals die each year trying to eat it.

Over 100,000 marine and land animals are adversely affected by these plastic bags. In particular, sea turtles consume plastic bags believing they are jellyfish, which results in them choking and dying. Although the effects of plastic bags have already affected our world, we are still able to mitigate future problems by reducing our plastic use. Simply using a reusable bag instead of a plastic bag could drastically slow down the disposal of plastic bags. Participating in Clean Up Australia Day will certainly help reduce animal deaths. There is an average of half a million shopping bags collected annually on Clean Up Australia Day, although it is small compared to the amount littered, it still helps the environment. The littering of plastics has contributed to the Great Pacific Trash Patch and continues to pollute the planet.

The littering of plastic continues to destroy the community and aquatic life as rubbish gathers in the Great Pacific Trash Patch. The Great Pacific Trash Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. This Patch is actually comprised of the Western Trash Patch, located next to Japan, and the Eastern Trash Patch, located between Hawaii and California. These patches were formed as a result of nautical currents. These include the California, North Equatorial, Kuroshiro, and North Pacific currents; their interaction creates the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch sits within the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Humanity’s habit of littering has ultimately resulted in waste accumulating in this oceanic vortex. The size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to range from 700,000 square kilometers, approximately the size of Texas, to over 15,000,000 square kilometers. Los Angeles alone contributes 10 tons of plastic to this floating island of trash. Although this patch might seem like it would contain visible debris, most of the plastic has degraded into smaller pieces. This process of fragmentation impacts the ecosystem in many ways. One such impact involves phytoplankton absorbing the microscopic fragments. When other marine animals eat the plastic-riddled phytoplankton, these creatures also ingest the plastic.

The minuscule size of the plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch makes it extremely difficult to clean up. Furthermore, no country wants to take responsibility or provide funds for its cleanup given its removal from any nation’s coastline. Despite this, several individuals and global organizations are dedicated to preventing the patch from growing. Reducing our consumption of plastic will aid in thwarting the expansion of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Despite our efforts to clean the world, the slow degradation of plastics renders our attempts relatively ineffectual.

The slow rate of plastic degradation will adversely impact future generations who will struggle to live in a clean world. Biodegradation, the chemical breakdown of materials by bacteria, fungi, or other biological means, varies across materials. For instance, a paper towel degrades within 2-4 months while a cotton cloth may take up to 5 months. Plastic, on the other hand, takes anywhere from 20 to 1000 years to degrade. However, Daniel Burd showed that plastic can actually biodegrade far quicker. His discovery of plastic-eating microbes reduced the decomposition period of plastic from 20-1000 years to just three months.

Aside from Burd’s method, the only other “effective” way to break down plastic is through photodegradation. This form of decomposition requires sunlight rather than bacteria, but causes plastic to fragment into smaller pieces, creating more environmental problems than solving them. Various marine animals such as phytoplankton, albatrosses, and turtles consume these miniature fragments, which often leads to mortality. Since plastic takes a long time to decompose, the eaten plastic continues to cycle through the food chain for centuries. Although plastic can be repurposed numerous times, its fragile structure often makes it undesirable for recycling. Investing in Burd’s method of plastic decomposition could help quicken already slow degradation rates and be greatly beneficial to our environment. In his own words, “Industrial application should be easy. All you need is a fermenter, your growth medium, your bacteria, and your plastic bags,” proving that large-scale decomposition of plastic could indeed be achievable and relatively simple.

Plastic is a truly vital product in our lives; however, its effects are immensely destructive to the environment. Its proliferation has affected the world negatively; nonetheless, these effects are not immediately visible. The use of plastic bags and subsequent littering have devastated the ecosystem. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, formed due to the disposal of plastics, has caused severe problems for marine life. Plastic’s slow biodegradation rate has damaged the environment, a repercussion that will invariably impact future generations.

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The Importance of Plastics to Our Lives and Its Contribution to the Pollution of Our Environment and Littering. (2022, Dec 16). Retrieved from