Since its grand introduction to the world as a suitable material for commercial mass production mid-way through the last century, the use of plastic has proliferated to cover every corner of the earth. Nowadays, its ubiquitous nature means we often take it for granted. Unfortunately, a lot of the times, the plastic items we’re using are designed to only be used once (takeaway straws, cups, containers and cutlery to name a few), and we subconsciously buy into that lifestyle - getting into the rhythm of using and tossing things within a matter of hours because it’s convenient. If we take a step back to actually understand the various costs associated with bringing about this “convenience”, however, we may start to reassess the relationship we have with single-use plastics.
Creating single-use plastics takes up a lot of resources
Plastic is made from crude oil, the same limited resource used to make many other things (like petroleum for cars). Going with the car example, the amount of petroleum needed to create 9 plastic bags is enough to power an average car for more than 1 mile. Considering the average plastic bag is only used for 12 minutes before being tossed out, that’s quite an opportunity cost given the petroleum could be put to better use elsewhere. On top of this, the processing and use of crude oil also carries with it significant environmental impacts anyway, regardless of what the crude oil is ultimately used for. We therefore leave behind a massive carbon footprint whenever we use any sort of single-use plastics.
Tossing out single-use plastics hurts our environment (and the animals in it)
When we dispose of single-use plastics, more often than not, they end up in landfills or washed into the ocean one way or another. Even when we toss them into recycling bins, many of these items still get rejected at the recycling facilities thrown into landfills. Plastic bags, like many other plastic products, can take up to 1000 years to decompose, so when they get into our oceans, they’re pretty much there for good. Marine life can be hugely impacted by plastic pollution introduced into their habitats, with many sea creatures susceptible to choking on or getting tangled in our plastic waste. It is estimated that 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea turtles and marine mammals die each year for these reasons. So plastic definitely isn’t the most eco-friendly.
It ultimately comes back to us
A huge portion of our relationship with single-use plastics comes in the form of products that help us hold and consume food. Using plastics for this purpose, however, could be more harmful than you think. Plastic containers, for example, can leach toxins into our food and drinks when it comes into contact with them. One such toxin is Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical that can not only disrupt the hormones in our body but also cause major diseases like cancer. Moreover, our exposure to these dangerous side-effects of plastic does not simply end when we toss the items away. Once single-use plastic waste finds its way into the ocean, it can be ingested by fish and other marine animals, thus entering our food chain and ultimately coming back to us
Once we begin to look beyond the apparent benefits of plastic-based products, we start to notice all the major trade-offs that take place in the background to produce these items. The material that the world previously embraced for its convenience may therefore not be worth the hassles and troubles after all.