If you’re an average person, you eat at least 50,000 particles of microplastic each year and you breath in a similar amount. That’s close to 275 particles per day or approximately 20 for each waking hour. This adds up to 5 grams of plastic per week, comparable in weight to eating your credit card. Yummy!
Plastic Ingestion by Humans
A new study, No Plastic in Nature: Assessing Plastic Ingestion From Nature To People is the first global analysis to look at the ingestion of plastic pollution by humans. Science is just beginning to explore the link to human health and more research is required to fill the many data gaps that still exist.
Although the health impacts of ingesting plastic are still not clear, one can assume, with absolute certainty, that it’s not good for any part of your body. Not one of your 40 trillion cells will function better with more plastic.
Here’s a warming for you bottled water drinkers out there. Bottled water contains 22 times more microplastic than tap water on average. “A person who only drank bottled water would consume 130,000 particles per year from that source alone, the researchers said, compared with 4,000 from tap water,” reports The Guardian.
The Ubiquity of Plastic
Microplastics are everywhere – our drinking water, the air we breathe, the soil that grows our foods, rivers and deep oceans. New research shows that the most current estimate of 5 trillion pieces in the oceans is a major underestimate. Plastic now joins the growing list of global environmental threatening to all living creatures on earth.
10 Facts from Earth Day Network:
- More than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide in 2016. That is up from about 300 billion only a decade ago.
- About one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually across the globe. That’s nearly 2 million every minute.
- More than half a billion plastic straws are used every day around the world.
- Over half of the world’s plastic thrown out in 2015 was plastic packaging. That’s over 141 million metric tons.
- Takeout orders account for around 269,000 US tons of plastic waste that has entered the oceans.
- The amount of bubble wrap that is produced annually is enough to wrap around the Equator ten times.
- The world uses 500 billion plastic cups every year.
- 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used each year. These are coated with plastic to laminate the inside and use plastic lids.
- The world produces more than 14 million US tons of polystyrene (plastic foam) each year. Americans alone throw away around 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year
- Around the world, people litter more than 4.5 trillion cigarette butts every year.
The Plastic Crisis
Plastic production is accelerating. Half of all plastic has been made in just the past 13 years. And shockingly, only 9% gets recycled. “The recycling of plastic just suffers from poor economics,” says Roland Geyer (Ecologist at the University of California). It’s often cheaper to make new plastic than it is to recycle old ones.
Since 1950, some 8,300 million tons of plastics have been produced with 79% ending up in landfill sites around the world. Single-use plastics are now considered a “serious climate change hazard” reports The Guardian. “Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US… plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.”
And yet the world is on the verge of an even larger plastic binge. By 2050, plastic will make up to 13% of our total carbon budget—growing to 2.75 billion tonnes per year.
At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C. − Plastic & Climate Report
A Wake-Up Call
The world is beginning to react to the escalating plastic epidemic. Thirty two countries have now banned at least some single-use plastics—bags, straws, packaging. Five of the world’s top economies—excluding the United States and Japan—have signed the Canada-led Oceans Plastics Charter whose signatories have vowed to reuse, recycle or burn for energy production, all plastics by 2040.
In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau has just announced plans to ban single-use plastics across the country starting in 2021. “You’ve all heard the stories and seen the photos,” said Trudeau. “To be honest, as a dad it is tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam packed with plastic bags?”
Predictably, within hours of the Trudeau announcement, “the plastics industry was simultaneously claiming the initiative would have no impact on demand for petrochemical feedstocks and suggesting there are more effective ways to address plastic pollution than by banning products outright'” writes Mitchell Beer in The Energy Mix.
More than 60 countries have taken steps to reduce single-use plastics according to a 2018 UN report. The EU will ban the top 10 single-use plastic items found on European beaches by 2021 and will recycle 90% of all plastic bottles by 2025. India has vowed to eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022.
Plastic begins as a fossil fuel. Therefore, nothing short of stopping the expansion of plastic production and keeping fossil fuels in the ground will reduce the climate impacts of the plastic lifecycle.
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