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© Lora Denis
Single-use plastics—such as straws, plastic bags, and bottles—are meant to be used once and then immediately discarded. Many of us are already aware of the issue, as images of freshwater turtles with plastic around their necks or plastic littered on Lake Ontario’s shores are powerful, visual mediums that demonstrate the single-use plastic problem plaguing the environment.
This article explores the impacts of single-use plastics not only on wildlife and the environment as a whole, but also on human health.
Did you know only 9% of plastic is recycled in Canada? The rest ends up in landfills or littered on our lands and waters.
Nearly 3 million tonnes of plastic end up in landfills in Canada every year, and 29,000 tonnes make their way into the environment. These plastics take up valuable land space, as they accumulate faster in the environment than they decompose. Certain types of plastics take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade, such as plastic bottles, which can take up to 450 years or longer to break down. Plastics often break down into tiny microplastics that create pollution from the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench to the highest peak on Mount Everest.
In 2010, over 8000 tonnes of plastic waste ended up in Canadian waterways, a number that has only grown in recent years. In fact, over 22 million pounds of garbage enters the Great Lakes every year, with 3 million pounds entering Lake Ontario. This pollution has devastating effects on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The plastic debris injures and kills wildlife, either from being tangled or through ingestion. Additionally, as the plastic decomposes, it leaches toxic chemicals that can harm both humans and animals alike.
Plastics contribute to the climate crisis due to their fossil-fuel based supply chain. When making plastics, the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels emits an annual estimate of 12.5 to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas (GHG) that causes global warming.
Manufacturers of single-use plastics consume 6% of all global oil supply, which is estimated to increase to 20% by 2050. Also, the refining of plastics releases 184 to 213 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is roughly equivalent to what 45 million passenger vehicles emit each year. By 2050, single-use plastics are projected to account for 10% of worldwide GHG emissions.
Human health is harmed by single-use plastics. When left to degrade in the elements, single-use plastics leach many harmful chemicals into the ecosystem, such as bisphenol-A (BPA). They release endocrine-disrupting chemicals that bioaccumulate in humans and can cause cancer and impact reproductive hormones.
Additionally, the high demand for disposable masks to combat the pandemic has added to the pollution problem. A single disposable mask can release 1.5 million microplastics into surface waters and ocean environments, hurting marine species and infiltrating people’s drinking water supplies.
Despite growing public awareness and calls to decrease single-use plastic consumption, petrochemical companies are projected to increase annual production to 1,124 million tons by 2050, as compared to 311 million tons in 2014. Retailers have committed to reduce plastic waste by embracing alternative packaging, using recycled plastic materials, or eliminating plastic supplies altogether. To wean from fossil-fuel based plastics, companies will need to adopt a responsible supply chain to reduce their plastic footprint significantly. Unless major change happens, single-use plastics will only continue to harm the climate, land, oceans, and human health.
And it’s not all bad news; in March 2022, the UN passed a global plastic pollution treaty that aims to reduce plastic pollution around the world. The specifics of the treaty must still be finalized, and will go into effect in 2024.
In addition to pushing for systemic change, there are many things you can do to reduce your plastic usage. Here are just a few:
Take a look at Ontario Nature’s resources to learn more about how you can reduce your environmental footprint!
Humanity should as soon as possible get rid of various plastic devices that have entered our lives quite tightly and think about how to reduce its volume (it is clear that it is impossible to completely refuse), but still, let’s save the environment together and make more recycling on local https://nearestlandfill.com/ facilities