According to some sources there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the world's oceans and seas, of which some 269,000 tons float on the surface, while about four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.
But there is almost 5 hectares of ocean for every human on Earth, leaving many people to believe that the ocean has an unlimited capacity and its regenerative power is awesome. Well, that is wrong in so many ways.
Plastic does not degrade, well, it does photodegrade but does not biodegrade. Which means that with time it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, finally becoming microscopic, invisible to the naked eye. Swirling the great gyres of our oceans and seas, these miniscule, invisible polymers gets ingested by marine species, and in turn enters the human food chain making us ingest toxic chemicals. Not all plastic photodegrades in the near term. Some plastics can retain their original shape and form for well over 400 years.
What is scary is the fact that the first plastic was invented in 1907. In just over a hundred years we have managed to poison our lands and seas, and are ingesting toxics leaching into our food. We will soon reach a stage of no return.
Just look around, our life is enveloped in plastic. From the toothbrush we use first thing in the morning, to the coffee cup at the neighbourhood cafe and the styrofoam cup at the dispenser in the office, from the cell phone housing, to the shrink wrap, from cheap disposable lighters to the cheap disposable pens, from laptop covers, to water bottles, from the aglets in our shoe laces to the snap catch in our backpacks. Almost every package we touch and use comes nicely moulded in plastic - from televisions to printers, soft drink bottles to irons, from cameras to binoculars. Go to the bookstore and the book you just bought might be nicely wrapped in shrink wrap film. And even the shiny cover is shiny because of the plastic laminate pasted on the sheet. And not to forget, the ever present, ever handy, plastic bag. Why, even our trash bins are made of plastic.
We are not getting rid of plastic in a hurry.
Just think about all the disposable lighters and all the disposable pens and all the plastic bags you have used over the years. What happens to them when the gas runs out or the ink runs out or you have placed your groceries in the refrigerator? We dump them in our trash can from where they make their way to the local trash bin (hopefully), from where they get dumped in a landfill starting their millennia long process of leaching toxins into the ground ... which then gets mixed with groundwater. If not a landfill, they make their way into the flowing waters of the rivers, that gratefully carry them before finally disgorging them into the oceans.
Think about this the next time you buy a disposable lighter. Give it a thought and buy a box of matches instead!
What can we do? I hear you say.
Plastic is everywhere and there is no life without plastic. I cannot go and live in some remote cave up in the Himalayas, now can I? No you cannot. But you can become a little more conscious about the amount of plastic that ends up as a part of your lives. Watch this 3D animation video to understand a bit about plastic production, consumption and breakdown.
Let us look at some ways you could reduce your carbon footprint by reducing your dependence on plastics:
- Don't change you mobile phone every second month
- Buy a matchbox instead of a lighter
- Buy a fountain pen and a bottle of ink
- If you are too used to ball point pens, start buying refills instead of chucking the whole pen away
- Carry your own (non plastic) carry bag the next time you go shopping
- Chances are you carry a bottle of water with you; don't chuck the bottle ... refill it
- Refuse to have tea or coffee at your workplace in a styrofoam cup ... carry your own (non plastic) cup from home instead
- If you like plants in your balcony, make sure the planters are not made of plastic
- Buy stuff in bulk instead of in their individual plastic packaging
- Influence your friends, family and colleagues to be more responsible.
There are a million ways you can do your bit, it is not difficult to see the possibilities when you really put your mind to it. Will it make a difference? If it is just you, maybe not. But if you can rope in ten friends to follow the REFUSE | REDUCE | REUSE | RECYCLE policy, and then each of them manage to convince ten others, soon we will have a commitment from a million people ... then a billion.
What about the packaging industry? And the large corporates? Will they ever change?
No they will not, not if we continue to use their products. But if each and every one of us consciously start demanding alternative and cleaner products, it will hit them where it hurts and one day they will be forced to look at alternatives. That will only happen if they start bleeding at the bottomline with customers refusing to buy their products.
And why only customers? If the employees of an organisation refuse to drink their coffee in styrofoam cups, at first the company will be very happy at the cost cutting measure inadvertently thrust on them ... they do not need to buy cups anymore. But then, once this refusal towards plastic extends to other items, one day things are bound to change.
There is a lot of research happening in plastics to make biodregadable. Have we crossed the Rubicon on that ... not yet, but it is a step in the right direction. Force packaging companies to look at alternative methods, at least do something to make their plastics friendlier to the environment.
Each of us has to be the harbinger of change.
If we do not, we will continue to postpone the inevitable to a future generation, content in the fact that we did not have to see it. But it is our children and grandchildren we are talking about. Can we be so thick skinned and heartless that we are prepared to leave them a poisoned environment to live in? I don't think so.
Let us start a movement. A movement of individuals and corporates. Let us call it the PLASTIC FREE COALITION. Join in, ask your friends to join in, force your employer to convert to a plastic free workplace, refuse plastic bags at the friendly neighbourhood store. Work towards a future with a better and friendlier alternative to plastic.
One day we will start to see the change.