The Effect of Plastic on the Environment
The second half of the twentieth century, the epoch of new discoveries and inventions, has all reasons to be called “Plastic Age.” The invention of plastic and its introduction to all the spheres of human life changed the world and opened a new page in the development of the planet. Nowadays, plastic has become an inseparable part of our daily life which is used in all fields of human activity. Nevertheless, this inexpensive and convenient material appeared to have both positive and negative influence on the modern world. Through the last decades, plastic has turned into a serious threat not only to several individuals but to the existence of the planet and humanity on the whole. Thus, this paper aims at discussing the effect of plastic on the environment, which is the prime step which can help to prevent the irreparable consequences of its thoughtless usage.
"Plastic Age" started with the complete integration of plastic into all spheres of the everyday life. A new material appeared to be comfortable in use, profitable in its production, inexpensive, durable, corrosion-resistant; it also possessed high thermal and electrical isolation properties. All these characteristics led to a great increase in the production of plastic materials and its widespread usage all over the world. What is more, plastic has become one of the prime materials for medical application. Nowadays, it is commonly used in tissue and organ transportations. Furthermore, plastic seems to be the most convenient material for making single-use disposable devices of medical equipment.
The invention of disposable syringes became a turning point in the history of medicine and reduced the possibility to transmit blood-borne infections. Latex gloves as well as intravenous bags and tubes have contributed to the appearance and development of immediate drug delivery and blood transfusions. Plastic is also used in space programs and military sphere. Widespread popularity was gained by bulletproof vests which mainly consist of plastic. Military and medical spheres are not the only aspects of plastic exploitation in the modern society. This material is also commonly used in the production of clothing, dishware, and food packaging. Thus, plastic bags have become an indispensable part not only of the grocery stores but also of the transport system, households, and everyday life in general. Moreover, in less developed countries, plastic bags fulfill the function of a toilet and help to maintain the norms of sanitation. The popularity of plastic bags is growing every day: they supersede all other packaging devices in the market and threaten the ecological system of the planet. This material has become one of the biggest concern for the modern society combining both its convenience and harm to the environment.
All the benefits of plastic cannot compensate the negative effect on the surrounding world. First of all, its structure includes the number of additive chemicals which are toxic and can harm human and animal population. Two main composites of plastic are phthalates and BPA. There are a lot of cases when people and animals are exposed to phthalates through ingestion, inhalation or dermal contact with products made of plastic. As a result, high exposure level to phthalate metabolites can lower semen quality in the male organisms, change testosterone characteristics and threaten reproductive functions of men. BPA, in its turn, can cause loss of sex differentiation in the brain structure and behavior of animals. What is more, monomer, which is used in the production of PVC plastic, is the prime reason for the numerous cases of diagnosed angiosarcoma among the manufacture workers. All chemicals which are used in plastic manufacture have negative effect on the health of humans and the environment around. Although the process of plastic production is considerably cheap and simple, its harm to the environment cannot be overestimated.
Another downside of plastic is its ability to transfer harmful chemicals to the food chain. Thus, animals can mistakenly eat some plastic products mixing them with their food and, as a result, oxen substances, which are absorbed by a product during the process of manufacture or from the environment, penetrate into their organisms. For instance, every year thousands of seabirds and fish die or suffer from swallowing plastic bags or other plastic products. However, fish are not the final element of the food chain, and they can transmit plastic to the stomachs of higher animals such as whales and sharks, or even to humans.
One of the biggest threats to the environment has become the growth of plastic debris on the shoreline. This phenomenon troubles biologists and ecologists from all over the world making them doubt the ecological future of the planet. Plastic, which is a part of the municipal waste stream, is the prime source of the shoreline debris. Furthermore, tons of plastic products are carried into water streams as a result of rains and floods. All these factors contribute to the contamination of the natural freshwater reservoirs and marine habitats. Since plastic has a long period of degradation, its products usually sink on the seabeds creating new kilometers of plastic debris. Consequently, thousands of marine animals are forced to abandon their habitats and search for new places which are more convenient for living. Besides, a huge part of the aquatic flora and fauna extincts being unable to live in the poisoned surrounding. Plastic debris seriously threatens the ecological situation on the Earth and can cause irreversible processes. It also negatively affects fishing and tourism industry. Numerous fragments of the plastic waste make it impossible to fish in the contaminated area, which later can be abandoned by both animals and humans. Pollution of waters causes a decrease in the popularity of the place among the tourists. Therefore, appearance of plastic debris is not only harmful to the environment but also lowers potential income of the state. Finally, polluted areas cause aesthetic confusion among its citizens and ruin the beauty of the marine landscapes.
Not only the usage but also plastic disposal contributes to the further pollution of the air and lands. One of the widely spread ways to dispose of plastic products is landfilling, which leads to the exhaustion of the land resources and lowers productivity of the soil. Incineration of plastic is not less harmful to the society since it releases carbon dioxide into the environment and stimulates the greenhouse effect. Thus, a proper disposal of the plastic is a responsible and crucial step towards reducing the negative influence of this material on the environment.
Nowadays, the biggest amount of plastic is spent on the production of plastic bags. These plastic products are gaining more and more popularity around the world in spite of their extremely harmful effect on the environment. It has been calculated that around trillion of plastic bags are used by people every year. Their negative impact includes such aspects as agricultural pollution, environmental degradation, damages to the aquatic life, and high disease incidence.
First and foremost, plastic bags destroy the agricultural system of the planet. Since the main way of their disposal is landfilling, thousands of plastic bags pollute the fields every day. Plastic bags cannot decompose in the soil, so they remain in the ground and block the growth processes of plants. Roots and crops cannot pierce plastic; hence, the fertility of the soils lowers. Such negative influence on the agriculture does not only result in the decrease of crop harvest and damages for the ecological system, but it also ruins the food chain of animals and humans.
Furthermore, despite their popularity among the people, tons of used plastic bags are thrown away in the streets and public places annually. Such irresponsible attitude towards the utilization of plastic makes the environment ugly and aesthetically unpleasant for the citizens. Plastic bags can be blown by the wind and fix on the tree, lay on the roads or rivers.Thus, the increase in the production of the plastic bags appears to be a serious threat not only to the environment but to the public consciousness as well.
The biggest harm of the plastic bags is made to the aquatic life and artificial water reservoirs. In the cities, thrown out plastic bags clog drains and waterways causing floods and breakages of the sewerages. In the seas, rivers and oceans, an increased inappropriate disposal of the plastic bags leads to the appearance of tons of litter floating in the water. A lot of marine animals often confuse bags with their food and eat them. As a result, plastic bags kill around 100 000 whales, turtles, and seals every year. Slow decomposition of the plastic only aggravates the situation since the bags eaten by animals remain in their stomach long after the death of their owners. Thus, plastic bags do not dispose but return again to the environment. It is not surprising that plastic bags appear to be the most common items which are seen in the oceans by the sailors. All these facts prove the harm which is made to the environment by plastic products. Although the material is extremely comfortable in use, its negative impact on the nature and health of humans cannot be overestimated.
The adverse effect which is caused by the increase in the production and usage of plastic bags prompted ecologists from all over the world to think about the possible alternatives to these popular bags. Two major alternatives are jute and paper bags. They are reusable, eco-friendly, and biodegradable. At the same time, the production of these bags appears to be an expensive and time-consuming process. In addition, the creation of paper bags requires the involvement of wood resources and negatively affects the environment. Thus, all these alternatives have their advantages and downsides which should be taken into consideration while choosing a proper material for grocery purposes. Although plastic bags are the most convenient in usage, a lot of countries all over the world banned or levied a tax on them. For instance, Australia, Italy, Ireland, and the United States of America imposed a tax on the production and utilization of plastic bags. Nevertheless, it is impossible to provide the complete rejection of the plastic bags among the population. Thus, the reuse of them remains one of the simplest and most effective ways to mitigate the dire ecological situation.
Not only alternatives of plastic bags but also all possible ways to reduce the usage of plastic become of the highest topicality for the scientists all over the world. There are several approaches aimed at reducing the production and disposal of plastic. Firstly, imposing a tax on the usage of plastic items, particularly plastic bags, can be considered as an effective and the most convenient strategy. It will discourage people from both producing and buying plastic products. Another option is to reuse all the items which are made of plastic. For instance, medical equipment can be reprocessed to be employed for several times. Production of the thicker and more durable bags provides a chance to reuse them for many times, and thus, reduce the number of the disposed items.
The increase in recycling capacity is a great solution of the problem. Although new improved recycling systems require serious funding, they can answer two questions at the same time: allow leaving plastic on the market and making this material eco-friendly. Molecular redesign and introduction of the degradable polymers and biodegradables into the manufacture of plastic will also provide an opportunity to make the material more recyclable. Furthermore, better waste disposal can help to reduce the negative effect of the plastic. Creation of special regulations, taxes, laws, and standards can play a significant role in the improving of the ecological situation in the state and reducing the quantity of plastic products. Nevertheless, government and scientists cannot solve the problem alone since only a change in public thought and attitude towards plastic can lead to success. Complete understanding of the possible threat to the environment and significance of the immediate reaction to the harm which has been already made by plastic can help to save the planet from an ecological catastrophe. Rise of public awareness of this question as well as the implementation of better education can reduce the effect of plastic on the environment. Only by working together people can return life and harmony to nature.
In conclusion, people should not forget that modern world develops every second, new discoveries are made, new devices are invented. Technology gives the possibility to produce new materials and items which can make the life more comfortable and interesting. At the same time, such rapid development of technology and science has led to the deterioration of the ecological situation on the planet. Nature is dying while people are using more and more harmful products paying no attention to their effect on the environment. Thus, plastic has become one of the most controversial discoveries of the last decades. Nowadays, plastic products are widespread and find application almost in every sphere of human life. Nevertheless, the effect of the plastic items has both positive and negative side. It appears to be extremely convenient and simple in usage, but it damages nature and pollutes the environment. Excessive production and utilization of the plastic products leads to the decrease in soil fertility, ruination of animal habitats, floods and plastic debris, air pollution, and high disease incidence. Ambiguous meaning of plastic for the modern community generates debates among the biologists and ecologists who try find eco-friendly alternatives to the material or make it less harmful. Although a profound research and work have been done to minimize negative influence of plastic on the environment, its complete removal from the everyday life is impossible.