In general, most of us are aware that it is better to choose reusable products over disposable. We know that Styrofoam never decomposes. We might even know that trash is produced at an alarming rate of 1,609 pounds per American annually. But what do we know about plastic?
“In the next hour, Americans will use and throw away approximately 2,500,000 million plastic bottles. Of those 2.5 million bottles, every one will still exist a thousand years from now.” – Intent Blog
Plastic is forever. Petroleum-based plastics like PET do not decompose in the same manner that organic material does. Unlike wood, grass and food scraps, these plastics are unrecognizable to the organisms that normally break organic matter down and thus do not biodegrade. Instead, these plastics will often undergo a process called photo degradation, which is essentially sunlight breaking the plastic into tons of tiny pieces over time. Even still, landfill plastic is not afforded much sunlight and thus does not get much opportunity to photodegrade.
Plastic floating in the ocean has a much greater exposure to sunlight and it just so happens that plastic is particularly good at making its way to the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for instance, is a floating mass of plastic twice the size of Texas. It is the largest garbage site in the world, located just off the coast of California, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one. In the ocean, the plastic can be exposed to enough sunlight to photodegrade in as little as a year. However, while photo degradation dissolves the trash from the larger perspective, the resulting tiny plastic particles are actually toxic chemicals such as BPA and PS oligomer that then make their way into the stomachs of sea and air animals, onto the shorelines, and into direct contact with humans. Roughly one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
Biodegradable plastic is an option, but one that is slowly gaining traction. The following infographic is a sobering account of the effect that our plastic consumption is having on the earth. At the bottom of the infographic, discover 10 simple ways that you can decrease your plastic footprint today, to help minimize the harmful impact on tomorrow: