How ‘plastic’ is your life?

  • 21 Feb 2019

Plastic rules our daily lives and experts warn that both businesses and consumers have to change.

locks of electronic waste hidden in a freight container are seen during a search at Leam Chabang industrial estate, Chonburi province, Thailand, May 29, 2018. ( Reuters )

Plastics are part of our daily consumption habits. The foods that we buy from markets are supplied in plastic bags, plastic films and other kinds of plastic containers.

Additionally, plastic is a non-biodegradable material made from petrochemicals and not found in nature.

The fact that plastic production increased to 322 million metric tonnes in 2015, from around 80 million tonnes in 1985 illustrates how ‘common’ the production and usage of plastic became today.

And the tendency is growing.

A major issue with plastic - particularly single-use plastic which at most is used hardly few times and then thrown away, and being banned in several countries but still in use - is that this creates vast amounts of waste, in turn directly affecting our environment and nature.

It takes10 to 20 years for a plastic bag to completely decompose in the sea. For a PET bottle, the number is much higher - 450 years before it decomposes in water and sinks to the seabed in the form of microplastics.

Plastic is to the most produced for packaging.()

Daily plastic consumption

Depending upon the region, packaging consumes 35 to 45 percent of the plastic produced in total. It dominates the market for beverage bottles and textile fibres.

This is also where most waste comes from.

While plastic used for building, construction and textiles together makes up another one-third of total production, these products are long-lasting.

The biggest problem is that in many cases the plastic is used only briefly and thrown away immediately - sometimes ending up in water bodies. One way to tackle the problem could be appealing to people's reason, encouraging them to produce less rubbish or to opt for products where the use of plastic is limited.

But here is where it becomes difficult for individual consumers.

Kenya imposes world's toughest law against plastic bags.(Reuters)

Effects of plastic on our health and the planet

Plastics that act as pollutants are categorised into micro-, meso-, or macro debris, based on their size and it the negative impacts they have on humans and nature.

“In the year 2050, three times more plastic could swim in the sea than fish”, said the British Ellen MacArthur Foundation in a stark warning.

A UN Ocean Conference report from 2017 also stated: “Every year, about 1,000,000 seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die from contact with our plastic waste. Phthalates (plasticisers) cause the function of our genes to be increased or decreased. They change the genetic information. These chemicals can change from the brain to the immune system of all parts of our body.”

In other words, plastic waste and plastic food contact can result in the unconscious consumption of plastic by humans.

What can be done?

Plastic usage has become a production and consumption ‘habit’, say experts. That’s why it needs will on both sides to make a change.

“The behaviour of businesses and consumers will only change as a result of financial pressure or incentives,” said the piece entitled ‘Tax the plastic!’ that appeared in German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.

In August last year, the European Commission called for a plastic tax to be introduced and for every kilogram of plastic waste that is not recycled to be taxed at 80 cents.

But it seems that this proposal does not go far enough, because it is not just plastic packaging that is problematic for the environment, but all disposable packaging.

What is necessary therefore is a tax on all disposable packaging - to reduce the ‘use once-throw away’ habit most people have adapted.