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Can you imagine a world without plastic? Today, a world without plastic is impossible. Plastic has become a part of all aspects of our daily life. Especially during the pandemic, single-use plastic sheets, masks, bags, and other equipment were used on a large scale across the world. It is clearly evident that the world is facing a plastic pollution crisis. Plastic pollution is growing into the most concerning ecological issue due to the rise in the production of disposable plastic products. Plastic pollution has become a serious problem all over the world. This crisis desperately needs an urgent local and global response. The world’s plastic pollution crisis can not only be solved by just world leaders and decisions makers, though they play a big role in it, but it also requires our individual effort. And that’s why awareness of this issue is important.
The earth is drowning in plastic waste, especially microplastics. Plastic is an essential commodity today due to the valuable uses it offers, and thus, society has grown dependent on it, leading to numerous environmental issues. Plastic litter can be found literally everywhere in the world, so much so that scientists say that plastic could serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era. Plastic pollution is particularly observed to be increasing in developing countries such as African and Asian countries, as waste collection and segregation in these countries are ineffective and mostly nonexistent. This does not mean that developed nations do not contribute to plastic pollution. Developed nations, especially nations with low recycling rates, also have issues with plastic disposal.
Most parts of the planet are already drowning in plastic while damaging the animal, human and environmental health. The WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) has recently reviewed around 2,000 surveys and studies on the plastic pollution crisis. The review warns that plastic has penetrated into every corner of the ocean and can be found in the tiniest marine creature to even the largest whale.
Despite the numerous warnings and signs of extreme environmental damage, the human demand and greed for fossil fuels will take over. The production of plastic is said to increase twice the amount by the year 2040. The rise in plastic production will have alarming consequences on the environment and humankind. The number of microplastics and plastic debris in the ocean will increase every year, while large marine areas could be filled with enormous amounts of microplastics. The worst-case scenario would include exceeding amounts of plastic in the ocean, resulting in the death of numerous marine animals and their reduced populations. Due to its durable nature, the continuous intake of plastic litter in the marine food chain will accumulate and reach alarming levels.
Even if all plastic production and consumption are entirely stopped today, the number of plastics will continue to increase by the year 2050 as the plastic waste we have already disposed of on the planet will not vanish. As plastic decomposes or degrades, it breaks down into small pieces known as ‘nano plastic’. This nano plastic cannot be recovered as it is so tiny that it becomes invisible to the naked eye.
The plastic industry started in the early 1900s. The industry began when the first synthetic plastic was produced in the United States. From the 1900s onward, the plastic industry grew, with global plastic production per year reaching 1.5 million metric tons in the year 1950. In the year 2018, the production increased to 359 million metric tons. Today, the total production of plastic has reached eight billion metric tons worldwide, and the production is expected to increase in the coming years. The production of plastic causes pollution in every phase of its manufacturing, beginning with the use of fossil fuels for its creation.
The plastic manufactured by using fossil fuels is several decades old. The manufacturing and development of hundreds of new plastic items increased after World War II. Plastics have transformed contemporary society in a way that life today without the use of plastics would be unrecognizable. The production and usefulness of plastics changed numerous aspects of the world. Plastics have provided the medical field with life-saving equipment, made space travel attainable, reducing the weight of vehicles, provided protection in helmets and incubators, and helped produce equipment for clean drinking water. These valuable services and uses that plastic offers, resulted in a throw-away culture that has disclosed the material’s evil side. In modern society, single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic manufactured per year. Half of all the plastics ever produced since the 1900s have been made in the last 15 years. Numerous plastic products like plastic bags, packets, wrappers, and sheets, have a lifespan of a few minutes to hours, but their presence in the environment persists for hundreds of thousands of years.
During the month of February 2022, around 180 countries meet at the UN Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the issue of plastic pollution and, if possible, to form a treaty to address this crisis. 95 percent of the UN member states have publicly supported the decision for a global plastics treaty. However, forming a treaty will not completely stop plastic pollution. National and international decisions and policymakers need to form not just any treaty, but a treaty that is progressive and determined if we are to find a solution to the global plastic pollution crisis and eliminate it from our environment. It is possible to stem this plastic tide through government and individual efforts.
The solution lies in preventing plastic litter and waste from reaching rivers, lakes, oceans, and any water bodies in the first place. Delaying a solution or a treaty any further will definitely lead to numerous disasters. It is time to take action, and no time is best as the present.