How Humans Use Of Plastic Forms a Vicious Cycle
The interaction between humans and plastic is a vicious cycle. When it was initially invented in the early part of the 20th century, plastic was touted to be a gamechanger. It enabled the formation of a modern way of life, impacting the economy worldwide, creating an entire ecosystem of products spanning everything from recreation, to food packaging that changed the way we lived, worked and played. Our modern way of living and the convenience it affords, can be wholly attributed to this important compound. Yet in our quest to explore and experiment, invent and push the limits of this material, we’ve spawned a tonne of waste plastic that is slowly consuming us, our planet and our surroundings.
Humans have created plastic, and today it is slowly damaging us and threatening our existence in many different ways.
THE ADVENT OF MICROPLASTICS
Approximately 8M tonnes of plastic waste ends up in our oceans every year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While bigger plastic is seen, picked and can be set aside for reuse and recycle, an often unseen, yet extremely harmful byproduct generated with plastic degeneration is ‘microplastic’. Unseen by the human eye, these plastics – smaller than 5mm – often produced for commercial use in cosmetics or as a result of waste plastic decomposition due to environmental exposure, are consumed by microorganisms. Studies as recent as those conducted in 2020 found microplastics in 33% of all fish species. Humans consuming such fish have a 30% chance of ingesting microplastics when they consume such fish. This can cause detrimental toxic and chemical damage to our bodies over a period of time, including systemic damage, gastrointestinal and digestive blockages and even circulatory failure.
Sufficient research suggests that plastic below safe levels of exposure, harm animals during their pre-natal and early postnatal stages of development. Infact scientists testing the effect of phthalates – used in improving the flexibility of plastics – found male animals exhibiting severe disorders related to their reproductive system, defective external genitalia and testicular lesions. Given the genetic similarities between humans and animals/ rats, it is expected that adverse effects of plastic on both are similar, and very dangerous.
Humans are a very critical spoke in the wheel of plastic change, being instigators in the adoption of safer use of plastic and its disposal. It is also upto us to find alternative uses, a better means of recycling them, extending their end-use applications and preventing them from choking and damaging our bodies and those of all living beings. The change begins with us, and has to begin now.