Plastic pollution is a significant global issue with far-reaching impacts on our flora and fauna, marine and human health, and overall health of the planet.
Accumulation of plastic waste in the environment, particularly in the oceans, rivers, and landfills has detrimental effects on our ecosystem.
To create more awareness on the issue, a global challenge dubbed ‘Plastic Free July’ has been made to involve millions of people in this month’s campaign in the hope of protecting our planet.
When plastic waste enters water bodies, it poses a severe threat to marine life.
Marine animals like turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals often mistake plastic debris for food or become entangled in it, leading to injury, suffocation, and death.
Additionally, the presence of microplastics (tiny plastic particles) in the water contaminate the food chain, affecting marine organisms at various levels.
Plastic pollution disrupts entire ecosystems. It affects the behaviour, feeding patterns, and reproduction of marine species, leading to population decline and imbalances in the food web. The loss of marine biodiversity can have cascading effects on the health and stability of coastal and marine environments.
Plastics contain toxic chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). When these chemicals leach out of plastic products, they can contaminate the water, air, and food sources.
Human exposure to these chemicals through ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact has been linked to various health issues, including hormonal disruptions, reproductive problems, developmental issues, and an increased risk of certain cancers.
Coastal communities that heavily rely on tourism, fisheries, and other marine-related industries mostly suffer due to the degradation of beaches and water quality.
The cleanup and management of plastic waste also come with significant costs for governments, municipalities, and waste management systems.
One of the most concerning aspects of plastic pollution is believed to be its long-lasting nature. Most types of plastics are non-biodegradable, meaning they do not break down naturally. Instead, they gradually fragment into smaller pieces, creating microplastics that persist in the environment for hundreds of years.
A big hurdle for saving plastic is cost. One of the main reasons plastic (especially single-use plastics) became such an integral part of our consumer culture is that it’s cheaper to produce than other materials.
“It’s an uncomfortable truth. Virtually all plastic products contain a range of chemical additives that can leach out and enter food, drink, dust and air around us. Some of the smallest and most volatile chemicals can be absorbed through our skin or inhaled,” points out Dr Christos Symeonides, paediatrician and Clinical Research specialist at Minderoo Foundation.
“Many of these chemicals are known to be toxic, even at low levels. Babies in the womb and young children are at particularly high risk of plastic-related health effects from everyday use,” Dr Symeonides says.
Addressing plastic pollution requires collective efforts at various levels, including reducing plastic consumption, improving waste management systems, promoting recycling and innovation in sustainable alternatives, and raising awareness about the environmental impact of plastic waste.
Governments, businesses, communities, and individuals therefore have a role to play in mitigating plastic pollution and protecting the health of our planet.
Collective efforts required to mitigate plastic pollution
The cleanup and management of plastic waste also come with significant costs for governments, municipalities, and waste management systems