2020: An Epidemic of Waste: How to Reduce Plastic Pollution
Pollution is not a new issue in the world and sadly it is something that continues to get worse over time. Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause an adverse change. It can come in many forms, such as light pollution, air pollution, and even sound pollution. These contaminants cause many complications to our environment and to all of Earth’s inhabitants.
The Plastic Problem
In today’s consumer society, many of what we purchase and consume is made or contained in plastic. Plastic is inexpensive and durable making it great for production but bad for the environment. The chemical structure of most plastics makes them resistant to the environment and degradation.
Just take a quick trip down the beach or any water source nearby. After stepping a couple feet closer you will most likely find some sort of trash or plastic. Looking just a little bit further and there will be more. Unfortunately, this is the state of plastic pollution now.
It is estimated that one to eight million tons of plastic waste enters our oceans each year. Just look at it this way, 380 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide per year! This type of pollution is very harmful, not only to us humans, but to the marine animals and organisms in our oceans. Entanglement, ingestion, and exposure to chemicals are all side effects to our carelessness. It has been suggested that by the year 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight. This is truly a terrifying projection.
Unfortunately, there are different types of plastics floating around in our waterways.
Microdebris are tiny pieces of plastic that have been broken up and are easy for filter feeding animals to consume.. Macrodebris are larger items such as plastic bags and fishing nets, which are one of the biggest macrodebri polluters. But now in 2020 there is a new plastic polluter out there that has the potential to be the new biggest source of pollution.
Garbage and plastic pollution on the seashore.
The New Threat
PPE, or personal protective equipment, is the new problem our environment is facing. The pandemic of COVID 19 has brought on many challenges to our normal way of life and has tested our way of adaptation. Now, everywhere you go, you are required to wear PPE. While many people have adopted a reusable mask made of cloth or other materials, there are still millions of single use masks being used every day. Before, single use medical masks were mainly used in hospitals and considered medical waste, therefore being disposed of properly by incineration. But now that the public is required to wear them as well, we see them washing up on shore and littering our beaches. There is new footage coming out every day of the growing surge of used masks floating in the ocean and entangling birds on the shore.
An Epidemic of Waste
This new form of plastic pollution has created an epidemic of waste. We are in the midst of creating a new and worsening problem for ourselves and our environment. These masks are non-biodegradable and estimated to take 500 years to degrade. We have been fighting to change the plastic pollution problem for decades with little headway being made. And there isn’t an end in sight. More and more PPE is being made daily to keep up with demand during our pandemic. It has been estimated that in the US alone, an entire year’s worth of medical waste could be generated in just two months.
Now that PPE is required by everyone, not just those in the medical profession, there are more and more cases of people just leaving their used masks and gloves out in the world. Even if only one percent of these used masks were disposed of incorrectly, that would still leave 10 million per month polluting our waterways and environment, according to the WWF.
PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment, is the new problem our environment is facing.
Finding a Solution
Due to the current pandemic, many policymakers have put plastic pollution policies on the back burner. We are seeing the increase in masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer bottles all over the world and the policymakers are just now starting to see the problem. But what is being done to change the course and ensure environmental sustainability?
That is something that is currently up to all of us. The first step would be switching to a reusable mask. This is safe as long as it is washable material. Just this step alone will greatly reduce the amount of waste seen in our environment. If you do wear gloves, consider switching over to plant based, 100% biodegradable gloves made from resources in the environment. These are a safe and reliable alternative to other types of protective gloves that do not degrade. But the most important step of all is to make sure we are all disposing of our PPE properly. Make sure that you are throwing away each item in the proper waste disposal. It has now been suggested to cut the strings on single use masks to prevent sea and wildlife from becoming entangled.
Making a Difference
Just taking those personal tiny baby steps makes a world of difference in the future of our planet. This epidemic of waste is something we have created and it is now up to us to stop it. Reducing plastic pollution is something that has always been at the forefront for environmentalists and now we need to be part of the solution more than ever. While protecting our health and the health of others during the COVID 19 pandemic by utilizing personal protective equipment and sanitizing our hands and surfaces, we also need to be conscious of our environment. Making the decision to switch to more sustainable protection solutions is something that is simple and very effective. Plant based and biodegradable products are readily available as well as reusable masks. Making good decisions starts with you.
Article credit : Lauren Smithson