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Plastic bags have become a daily necessity in our lives. Currently, the whole world uses around 5 trillion plastic bags every single year! That’s 160,000 a second and over 700 a year per person.

should we really care about plastic pollution?

reducing plastic pollution

Why Should We Care?

Plastic bags have become a daily necessity in our lives. Currently, the whole world uses around 5 trillion plastic bags every single year! That’s 160,000 a second and over 700 a year per person. What’s worst is that a typical plastic bag is only used for only 12 mins but it’s consequences lasts for hundreds of years, adversely affecting the livelihoods of our future generations. And because plastics are so durable, they never actually go away. Instead, they travel from places to places and they end up in landfills, rivers, air, and the ocean! 

Plastic pollution is a quickly growing global problem due to both the increase in consumerism and an increase in the number of plastics used to manufacture the things we use on a daily basis. Multiple recent studies have shown that microplastics can be found in both our food and water sources from fruits to chicken. And some parts of the world are found to be consuming one credit card’s worth of plastic every single week.   

shocked from plastic pollution

Does It Help With Reducing Climate Change?

The answer is an absolutely yes! According to the World Economic Forum, about 4-8% of annual global oil consumption is associated with plastics. And due to the recent drop in oil prices and a shift towards sustainable energy sources, this figure is expected to increase to 20% as fossil fuel companies are turning to plastic production for a more stable source of revenue. According to researchers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, plastic production and disposal resulted in 850 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 and is on track to reach up to 2.8 billion tons by 2050 if nothing is done.

As a result, plastics are not just a massive pollution problem but it is also a catalyst for climate change. The CIEL report warns that the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic will jeopardize our ability to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5˚C. It might not sound like much but at 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, about 14 percent of Earth’s population will be exposed to severe heatwaves at least once every five years, while at 2 degrees warming that number jumps to 37 percent. By simply Limiting warming to not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, we can reduce the number of people being exposed to frequent extreme heatwaves by about 420 million, with about 65 million fewer people exposed to exceptional heatwaves.

treating plastic waste is a huge problem

When it comes to plastics, climate change isn’t the only concern. No matter which method is used, treating plastic pollution will always produce greenhouse gases. That is why the best way to solve plastic pollution is to simply reduce it right at the source. Managing and treating plastic wastes itself poses significant health issues to nearby communities and ecosystems.

When it comes to plastics, climate change isn’t the only concern. No matter which method is used, treating plastic pollution will always produce greenhouse gases. That is why the best way to solve plastic pollution is to simply reduce it right at the source. Managing and treating plastic wastes itself poses significant health issues to nearby communities and ecosystems.

scared of plastic pollution

First and foremost, incineration, recycling and landfill facilities are disproportionately built near rural communities of low-income populations all around the world. And these group of people are often the ones who are least responsible for the waste in the first place. According to WWF Malaysia’s study on the plastic consumption distribution in Malaysia, it can be seen that rural places in Malaysia consumes relatively lower amount of plastics every year while urban areas like Selangor and Kuala Lumpur have a higher rate of plastic consumption.

Incinerations are problematic because burning plastic waste not only produces toxic gases and disperses pollutants into our air, but it is also responsible for 38 percent of all the carbon emitted from plastic pollution. Incinerator workers and people living near facilities are particularly at high risk to extreme health issues. Plastics left in the environment, such as those that persist in landfills and litter coastlines, have been found by University of Hawaii researchers to release the greenhouse gases methane and ethylene when sunlight hits them. As it does, it will go into an alarming feedback loop.

As our climate changes, the planet gets hotter, the plastic breaks down into more methane and ethylene, increasing the rate of climate change, and so perpetuating the cycle. Plastic wastes in landfills will also leak pollutants into the soil and water, causing nearby water streams and wildlife eco-systems to be poisoned. All of these will eventually travel up the food chain and end up on our plates.

Recycling is a different beast with an entirely different set of problems. Compared to the low costs of virgin plastics, recycled plastics are expensive to produce. Recycling is rarely a profitable and lucrative industry due to the lack of raw materials and regulations, that is why it requires considerable government subsidies. As a Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests, only 2% of plastics are recycled into products with the same function. Another 8% are “downcycled” to something of lower quality and the rest is landfilled, leaked into the environment, or incinerated.

Micro plastics

planktons eating micro plastics

When plastics arrive at a landfill or at the ocean,  they break down into pieces smaller than 5mm called microplastics through biodegradation or exposure to the sun, heat, or water. These microplastics travel all across the globe, and can be found at even the deepest part of the ocean. Microplastics can sometimes act as a carrier for toxic chemicals to form “poison pills” that aquatic animals such as planktons and smaller fishes eat.

Planktons play a critical role in mitigating climate change as they take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the ocean via photosynthesis. Scientists are currently trying to determine if microplastics in the ocean interfere with phytoplankton’s ability to sequester carbon. The full effects of this are still being studied, but the essential premise is this: when microplastics threaten plankton populations, more carbon will re-enter the waters and atmosphere therefore speeding up climate change. Given that our oceans have successfully absorbed 30-50% of atmospheric carbon produced since the start of the industrial era, it’s easy to see just what’s at stake.

To us humans, microplastics exposure can cause toxicity through oxidative stress, inflammatory lesions, and increased uptake or translocation. Several studies have also demonstrated the potentiality of metabolic disturbances, neurotoxicity, and increased cancer risk in humans. It has been also been shown that microplastics can act as endocrine disruptors, interfering with normal hormone function and potentially causing weight gain. Certain microplastics, for example, flame retardants, are thought to interfere with fetal brain development, affecting the normal brain development in children.

What Can we do?

what are you going to do about plastic pollution

There are many things we can do to reduce plastic pollution like using biodegradable bags and practicing the 5 Rs of sustainability, “Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Repurpose, and Recycle”. Doing any one of them is a great start for humanity but not all of them yield equal level benefits to our planet. Using biodegradable bags are definitely better than normal plastics but producing and shipping biodegradable bags still produces considerable amounts of green house gasses to our environment. Furthermore, not all biodegradable bags can degrade in nature all by itself, special chemicals and treatment plants are needed to properly treat them. Biodegradable bags are also more expensive and are limited in supply, meaning that it is not always the most lucrative and feasible option out there.

Increasing recycling activities and invest in new methods of recycling that can process a wider range of plastic products with less environmental impact is also a great way to minimize the adverse impact of plastics. By finding new ways to extend the life cycle of plastic, we will be able to keep existing plastic in circulation for longer and reduce the amount of new plastic that needs to be manufactured.

However, the most effective solution comes in the form of refusal to use plastic. This option is also one of the hardest because it requires a change in both lifestyle and mindset. Even though it is difficult, it can be done as many citizens in South Africa and around the world are already living plastic-free lives. Furthermore, plastic wasn’t even a thing until the mid-1900s, so it is entirely possible to survive without the material. The production of plastics will die down by itself if demand for it also does the same. If society can change our attitude towards plastic and take steps to reduce plastic consumption, the plastic manufacturing industry will adapt and respond accordingly. Not only will this eradicate plastic pollution, but it will also minimize carbon emissions and slow down the rate of global warming.

Beebag’s goal is to accomplish just that. We want to eliminate plastic pollution by changing consumer behavior through positive reinforcement and gamification. If you’re someone who cares deeply about our environment and would want to take action now, download the free beebag app to start earning exclusive rewards and participate in exciting games when you reduce plastic pollution. Together, we can change the world and make a beautiful future for the next generation.

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