Recently, I finally got around to watching the 2009 documentary Plastic Planet by Werner Boote. I’ve been interested in learning more about how plastic is made from oil, the potential health dangers of all the plastic surrounding us not to mention the environmental repercussions. Sure enough, after watching it, I found a new article about how the earth is becoming a plastic planet.
I was both fascinated and horrified about how many plastic products are actually a part of my daily life! Not only the regular things you might think of, like kitchen utensils, ziploc bags and food containers, but also your clothing, nearly every food from the grocery store is packaged in plastic, cables and wiring, the refrigerator and there is probably plastic in the shower and the window frames. Everywhere I look, there is plastic and soon enough, I was driving my significant other crazy as I pointed out everything around us that was plastic!
Watching this doco, I learned while the main components of plastic itself are not harmful, the unknown additives from manufacturing have known toxic health effects. Two common additives you may have heard of are Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates; both are endocrine disruptors. Boote had his blood tested as part of the doco and they found measurable amounts of BPA in his blood. However, I wouldn’t get too excited about BPA-free plastic because chances are, it is just being replaced with a different toxic chemical! (Time to get rid of all my BPA-free bottles…)
To be fair, let’s take a step back and think about how plastic has benefited us, too. It keeps food fresh and prevents illness, it is hugely important in healthcare and its helped along the digital age of technology we are in…okay, that’s all I can come up with. And on the plus side, only 4% of oil production goes toward producing plastic, which is considerably less than I thought.
Plastic in the ocean
Besides the health effects, I am more concerned with environmental effects. Of course, now we all know how long it takes plastic to disintegrate and that we ought to recycle it, but there is already so much plastic in the environment its become a huge problem. Sea turtles are facing a huge struggle by ingesting plastic in the ocean.
We all know about the garbage in the ocean, is it any wonder its killing the creatures who call it home? Plastic is a big problem for sea turtles because they get tangled in it and drown or ingest it intentionally (thinking it is jellyfish) or accidentally which makes them very sick, causes intestinal blockages leading to starvation and an inability to properly digest food. (Source)
Aside from the plastic crisis, turtles are facing other threats from ending up as by-catch or on someone’s dinner plate, dealing with pollution and habitat disturbance to dealing with people like these idiots.
And its not just sea turtles. Staggering numbers of seabirds are also ingesting plastic and dying. Here is a collection of sad and disturbing photos of dead albatross found all with plastic in their stomachs. Even environments far from large human populations we might typically think of as being pristine contain plastic debris. In 2012, a group of researchers discovered the first plastic found in the Southern Ocean.
But maybe the majority of people won’t really care until the marine plastic epidemic starts affecting us…but it already is. If you eat fish, its highly likely that fish contains tiny plastic fibers which you are now eating, too. Just another great reason not to eat seafood.
Perhaps someday geologists will look back and call the era we are living in the ‘Plasticene’…
Looking around your home – how many plastic items do you see? Does it surprise you?
If you want to do something to help besides using less plastic in your daily life and ensuring your plastic is recycled responsibly, please look into helping or donating to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.