For years and years, mankind’s actions have taken a considerable toll on the makeup of its natural ecosystem. Sometimes these actions prove to be for the betterment of our world. Though in many instances, the reverse rings true. Time and time again, human beings seek temporary advantages in spite of a long-term crisis. And now it’s time to face the facts; our ecosystem has been negatively dominated by our introduction of synthetic plastics and the resulting plastic pollution.
This is not to say that plastic does not provide some benefits to society. In many ways, plastics and plastic products have allowed us to advance modern technology, safety, and health. But like most things, these developments come as a cost; plastic pollution. So we must, therefore, look at the positives and the negatives in concert with one another. When we take a 50-year outlook on our world and the projecting impact of plastic pollution; the negatives are most certainly outweighing the positives.
How Plastic Pollution affects Mankind Currently
Since the 1950s, humanity has created an estimated 8.3 metric tons of plastic. This means that its debris has now spent 70 years fanning across every corner of the globe. Plastic now clogs our drains and spreads across our parks, reservations, and mountains. But the effect doesn’t stop there as the natural process of runoff continues this spread throughout our lakes, rivers, and oceans. Scientists project that approximately eight million tones of plastic enters our water systems each year, accumulating in totality to an astronomical figure of 51 trillion particles currently.
That number is grossly higher than the number of stars in the galaxy.
What’s more, some plastic is considered considerably toxic and therefore, this buildup is wreaking havoc on both humankind and our animal and plant compatriots. These toxins can affect a human’s health hormones and can also serve as a magnet, attracting other pollutants that may carry far more dangerous side effects.
Plastic pollution may also be contaminating the air that we breathe every day. When plastic is discarded, its microparticles wash into our sewage system and are then dispersed into the sea. However, a sizable percentage of particles end up getting caught in the sewage system that is then reused to fertilize our farms and fields. After drying, those particles can be picked up by wind and dispersed throughout our entirety air system.
How Plastic Pollution Affects Animal Life Currently
For the animal community, plastics are nothing short of a harbinger of death. By eating or becoming entangled with plastics, the animal kingdom is finding itself severely at risk. In fact, scientists have now in fact linked the rising rate of plastics with a corresponding rise in the rate of species extinction.
Plastics do not biodegrade, therefore once they are introduced into an animal’s system- they will stay there forever. Therefore, consuming these plastics leads to malnutrition, digestive blockage and slow poisoning effects due to plastic’s heightened toxicity.
What’s even more disturbing, research suggests that as plastics continue to assimilate with the ocean ecosystem, they begin to morph and join with sulfur releasing algae. Certain seabirds and fish associate this sulfur release with feeding times and therefore these animals find themselves intentionally seeking out this dangerous plastic as a part of their instinct to feed.
The view of plastic pollution in 50 years.
Currently, the role plastic has played in the destruction of our environment is bleak enough. But when we zoom out to project 50 years into the future, the forecast is even more dismaying.
As plastic continues to grow in distribution, so will the hormonal and chemical effects onto our bodies, water systems, and air. By 2050, researches believe that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean as the rate of plastic production and plastic pollution continues to compound with each coming year. Further, the creation of plastics heavily utilizes fossil fuels, which has bee inextricably linked to the quickening of climate change.
Eventually, geologists predict these ever-increasing layers of plastic will actually form a noticeable line in our sedimentary rock formations. When this occurs, scientists are debating declaring the end of our current Holocene and instead ushering in the Anthropocene, or “Era of the Humans.”
The Bottom Line on Plastic Pollution
In only a few decades, the introduction of synthetic plastic and plastic pollution has created an unbelievable impact on our environment and ecosystem. And this impact is increasingly compounding upon itself, meaning the effects of the next 50 years will far outweigh the impact of the last 50.
But all is not lost. These facts and statistics do not define us. Humanity created this problem, and humanity still can do everything in its power to reverse or at least slow down these devastating impacts.
By weaning off our dependency to plastics, using reusable products, recycling and a whole host of other tactics; we can make an unbelievable impact on these staggering statistics. Many scientists and pollution leaders believe that consumers have just as much control as the industry itself on reducing the destruction of our environment.
Therefore, the power rests in our hands and our choices.