By Anna Griffin, Editor in Chief
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Once considered the convenience darling of our daily lives, plastic
is now a pollutant that is impacting our oceans, coastlines, the climate crisis, and our health, at catastrophic rates.
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It is estimated that 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide each year and according to NRDC, up to 91% isn’t recycled. Every year 40 billion, single-use, plastic utensils are used in the U.S. alone, as many as 8.3 billion straws pollute the world’s beaches, and 8 million tonnes of plastic flows into the ocean. “Researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s,”says UN Environment. “About 60% of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment.” Alarmingly, if current consumption continues, scientists predict there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
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A recent blog post by Chariot Energy, estimates that it would take approximately 20 years for a plastic bag to break down, 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose, up to 450 years for plastic bottles made of PET, and up to 500 years for plastic toothbrushes and disposable diapers. Plastics are not biodegradable, and with sun and heat turn into microplastics - tiny, microscopic fragments that end up in our water, our wildlife, our food, and us. Chemicals - known as endocrine disrupters - added to plastic during processing - harm our health, causing hormone imbalances, fertility issues, and even cancer.
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Additionally, plastic production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and refineries where crude oil is turned into plastic are one of the most greenhouse gas-intensive industries. Plastic pollution is a global emergency. Thankfully change, although slow, is on the horizon.
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Here at home in the U.S., plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products were banned in 2015. Eight states - California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont - have banned plastic bags, and plastic straws have been banned in cities including Washington DC, Malibu, Miami Beach, Berkeley, and Seattle.
Globally, Britain, Canada, Taiwan, and New Zealand, have also banned microbeads from rinse-off products. Most Australian states have banned the sale of plastic bags, as has Mexico City, Thailand (with a ban in most supermarkets and stores), Rwanda, Kenya, and Bangladesh. In 2018, Britain announced a ban on plastic straws, cotton buds, and stirrers, and the EU banned 10 throwaway plastics including Styrofoam and single-use straws. Canada aims to halt single-use plastics this year, India intends to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, and Wales aims to be zero-waste by 2050, with plans to become the world leader in recycling.
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