This article exposes the immense single-use plastic effects on the environment and life. Single-use plastics are amongst the most widely used material on earth with over 300 million tons in production yearly. The presence of so much of this material on earth is bound to affect the environment and life on earth.
Plastic itself is a sort of synthetic polymer, which is a long molecular chain. Polymers are found in nature, such as silk or DNA sequences. In contrast, synthetic polymers are manufactured in a laboratory. To offer a substitute for ivory, the first synthetic polymers were invented. The expanding popularity of billiards in the mid-nineteenth century put pressure on the supply of ivory, the principal material used to make pool balls. This led to the development of the first wholly synthetic plastic, which was made by reacting cotton fiber cellulose with camphor.
It wasn’t long before it was discovered that this new synthetic substance could be molded into a variety of shapes, eliminating the need for animal slaughter and the arduous extraction of other natural resources (Science History Institute, n.d.). Over the course of the century, mankind refined the production of plastics, eventually extracting them from fossil fuel products and taking advantage of the abundant carbon atoms they give.
Because nature can only produce so much wood, coal, and metal, the discovery of successful synthetic material was revolutionary. The use of a wholly synthetic material rather than natural resources ostensibly meant that this new product would be environmentally friendly.
The need to conserve precious natural resources forced the rapid expansion of this technology during World War II, which produced a demand for novel synthetic materials. Parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and other items made of nylon were employed during the battle. Plexiglass was used for aircraft windows instead of glass, while acrylic sheets were used in the vessel’s staterooms and noses.
Plastic production in the United States rose by 300 percent during WWII, as everyday household products were changed to plastic (Science History Institute, n.d.). Steel was replaced by plastic in automobiles, paper and glass in packaging, and wood in furniture. Plastics were viewed as the future’s building block at the time. They offered a safe, plentiful, low-cost, and sanitary material that could be molded and molded into any shape.
What are Single-use Plastics?
Single-use plastics are commodities created mainly from fossil fuel-based chemicals (petrochemicals) and intended to be thrown away immediately after use often in minutes. Petroleum-based plastic is non-biodegradable and usually ends up in a landfill (garbage site) or in drainage ways which eventually end up in the ocean.
Amongst the many plastics used as single-use plastics polyethylene and its derivatives are the most commonly used. In 1993 polyethylene was discovered by Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett by accident, polyethylene is a product of the polymerization of multiple ethylene compounds. This plastic has eventually become the most used plastic on planet earth.
Film bags of polyethylene was discovered by Swedish business owner Celloplast in 1960 and was further proved by Gustaf Thulin Sten, a Celloplast employee, his procedure invented the T-Shirt plastic bag. Single-use plastics have been proven to have more negative effects on the environment than expected.
Single-use Plastic Examples
The following are some examples of single-use plastics that harm our communities and the environment:
- Tags for plastic bread bags
- Bottles of plastic
- Takeaway styrofoam containers
- Materials for plastic packaging
- Plastic utensils
- Plastic bags
According to the United Nations Environment, the most common single-use plastics found in the environment and are single-use plastic effects on the environment (in order of magnitude) are:
- Cigarette Butts
- Plastic Drinking
- Plastic Bottles
- Bottle Caps
- Food Wrappers
- Grocery Bags Plastic
- Plastic Lids
And other types of plastic bags and foam for example takeaway containers.
Why are Single-use Plastics a Problem?
Single-use plastics have been in use since 1979 and because they cannot be decomposed they have become a huge threat to the environment and health. Here are some of the reasons why single-use plastics are a problem:
- Single-use plastics are built to be disposed of immediately after use, hence, so many people find it unimportant to properly disposing them into why baskets which would be taken for recycling, therefore it has been observed that only about 10% of single-use disposable plastic get recycled even though written on its body is written recyclable.
- Single-use plastics are perhaps at the top of the world’s disposable culture. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, about 9% of nine billion tonnes of plastic never get recycled.
- The majority of our plastics end up in landfills (garbage sites), oceans, and waterways, drainage as well as in the environment. Plastics do not decompose. Instead, they degrade into microplastics, which are tiny particles of plastic.
- Single-use plastics pollute both our soil and water supply channel.
- Toxic chemicals employed in plastic manufacturing are transferred to animal tissue and eventually end up in the human diet.
- Styrofoam a popularly used single-use plastic can harm the brain system, lungs, and reproductive organs if consumed
- A plastic bag takes 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill. Unfortunately, the bags do not entirely dissolve; instead, they photo-degrade, turning into microplastics that absorb poisons and pollute the environment.
- In 2015, the United States produced around 730,000 tons of plastic bags, sacks, and wraps (including PS, PP, HDPE, PVC, and LDPE), but more than 87 percent of those goods were never recycled, ending up in landfills and the ocean.
- Plastics were found in about 34% of dead leatherback sea turtles.
- There have been reports of microplastics in human meals and this has been to the single-use plastic effects on the environment. The average person is likely to consume up to 5 grams of plastic every week, this is very unhealthy and could be the source of sicknesses such as cancer in the long run
- Microplastics can be breathed and have been discovered in human organs and pregnant babies’ placentas.
- Plastic food packaging contains toxic substances such as phthalates and BPA, making them poisonous and able to trigger adverse health conditions when taken in excess or in the case one is allergic to such substances.
- Plastic packaging pollution causes an annual economic loss of over $80 billion to the world economy. It accounts for approximately half of the trash generated by this business, and it is used in almost every other industry. Building and construction plastics account for 16% of all plastic usage, whereas textiles account for roughly 15%. Because many of the goods are not viable to recycle, more of them end up in trash streams rather than being reused.
- We cannot recycle plastic products indefinitely because of the material’s characteristics, metals can be recycled multiple times into a range of items. Plastics do not have the same advantage. It can only be reused or recovered so many times before losing its quality and integrity. That indicates we’re more likely to recycle, incinerate, or dispose of this item at a garbage site. This disadvantage is exacerbated by the fact that some plastic products and commodities cannot be recycled at all. Every year, about 93 billion plastic products go unopened, resulting in their disposal in our waste streams.
- Recycled plastic resale chains are long and difficult to manage. Some plastic recycling processing and resale chains are long and inefficient. A single item may pass through multiple hands or travel a considerable distance during the recycling process. Many of the potential benefits vanish when it takes so much energy to reuse or recycle a product. That’s why some plastics, especially those that aren’t Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastic also known as No.1 plastics or High-Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE) Plastic also known as No.2 plastic, have a high waste rate. One of the main reasons why plastic is one of the most prevalent materials discovered in municipal trash centers and landfills is because of this disadvantage.
- It takes time and effort to clean plastics to recycle them. Cross-contamination of several types of plastic results in unfit to be used. Before recyclers can transform the items into new pieces, they must first be cleansed. Some products are a combination of different types of plastic in the same item (for example, a bottle and a lid), making management much more difficult. It’s a disadvantage that makes recycling ineffective at best — and occasionally impossible – for some areas.
Single-use Plastic Effects on the Environment
1. Inhibit Growth of Important Microorganisms
One of the Effects of single-use plastic effects on the environment is that they inhibit the growth of important microorganisms. Plastic bag chemical leachates inhibit the growth of one of the world’s most important microorganisms, Prochlorococcus, a marine bacterium that produces one-tenth of the world’s oxygen, this is extremely dangerous as oxygen is reduced drastically
2. They are converted to More Dangerous Microplastics
The amount of floating plastic in the world’s oceans is ever-increasing, for example in the Pacific garbage vortex. The action of Wave motions, microorganisms, and seasonal variations on plastics influences and changes the characteristics of the plastics thereby converting them into what is known as microplastics, which can then be devoured by plankton.
Microplastics can be found in fish, shellfish, and birds’ mouths, stomachs, and digestive tract, this goes on to affect their existence making it difficult for them to breathe and live. Of other single-use plastic effects on the environment, these single-use plastics being converted to microplastics is one of the major single-use plastic effects on the environment.
3. Increase in Carbon dioxide Emissions
Single-use plastics leading to more carbon dioxide emissions are one of the single-use plastic effects on the environment. The processing of plastics leads to the emission of large volumes of Carbon dioxide year, between 184 and 213 million metric tons of greenhouse gases are as a result If Plastic-related combustion, which is about 3.8 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, according to research.
4. Adversely Affects Humans
Human exposure to these compounds in plastics can result in hormone abnormalities, reproductive issues, and even cancer making it one of the major single-use plastic effects on the environment.
5. Increased Growth of Trash Yards
One of the single-use plastic effects on the environment is that trash yards increases in our neighborhood. Trash yards that receive discarded single-use plastics account for nearly 15% of methane emissions. Increased garbage sites and emissions result from the disposal of more plastics and since they are still massively produced, trash yards are bound to grow.
6. Land Pollution
Land pollution is one of the major single-use plastic effects on the environment. Contaminated plastics can release hazardous compounds into the soil, which can then runs into groundwater and other nearby water sources. This is one of the harmful single-use plastic effects on animals. Garbage sites are continually filling up with various forms of plastics.
These landfills also include numerous bacteria and pathogens that aid in the biodegradation of plastics. When plastic waste is not properly disposed of, it is carried by the wind or animals and fills upland spaces, drainages, and pipes. This chemical is then deposited into the soil, contaminating crops.
7. Increased Flood-like Events
One of the single-use plastic effects on the environment is the increase in flood-like events. Waste plastic bags are the most common cause of drain and sewer blockages, especially during rainstorms. This can cause a flood-like event and disrupt people’s daily lives and economic function. Furthermore, many lightweight single-use plastic products and packaging materials, which account for roughly half of all plastics produced, are not placed in containers for later disposal in garbage sites, recycling centers, or incinerators.
Instead, they are improperly disposed of at or around the point where they were utilized. They harm the environment as soon as they are dropped on the ground, flung out of a car window, heaped into an already full garbage receptacle, or mistakenly swept away by a gust of wind. In many parts of the world, landscapes littered with plastic packaging have become the norm. (Illegal plastic dumping and overflowing containment structures are other factors).
Although populated centers generate the most litter, studies from throughout the world have found no single country or demographic group to be the most guilty. Plastic pollution has widespread causes and consequences.
8. Some Plastics Pollute even when they are not Littered
The fact that some plastics pollute even when they are not littered is one of the major single-use plastic effects on the environment. Plastic pollutes even when it isn’t littered, thanks to the release of chemicals employed in its production. Indeed, environmental pollution caused by chemicals leached from plastics into the air and water is a growing concern.
As a result, some plastics-related chemicals like phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and polybrominated diphenyl ether are strictly regulated some plastics-related chemicals like phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and polybrominated diphenyl ether are strictly regulated
Single-use Plastic Effects on the Environment – FAQs
What is the Difference between Single-use Plastics and Reusable Plastics?
Reusable Plastics otherwise known as Multi-use plastic differ from single-use plastics in that they are reusable. When appropriately cleaned and disinfected after use another person can make use of them.
Single-use plastics can’t be reused because they are created to serve a particular purpose which after uses is of no value to be retained, also most single-use plastic is not fashioned to be cleaned or disinfected, thus they have to be thrown away after use.
Plastic polymers such as polypropylene and copolyester are used to construct most reusable plastic water bottles, making them lightweight and durable. (It’s not a good idea to reuse single-use water bottles made of PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic since frequent use will break down the material, allowing germs to grow in cracks, and washing in hot water can cause chemical leaching.)
Single-use plastics are made from fossil fuel-based chemicals whereas reusable plastics are made from plastic polymers such as copolyester and polypropylene.
What are some Harmful Effects of Single-use Plastics?
The harmful effect of single-use plastics travels beyond its effect in the present the havoc it can cause in the future is enormous.
- Scientists estimate that by 2050 there would be more plastics in the planet’s ocean than fish, this is a huge threat to marine life and humans, as this doesn’t just increase the death percentage of aquatic life by plastics, they also serve as contaminants to our food chain thereby causing all manner of diseases such as food poisoning and cancer.
- Some plastic bags are made with toxic substances and when they are acted to sunlight, the chemicals they are made with leach into the soil thereby contaminating it and if any seed is planted in such region the crop might either not grow or grow stunted by and most often the fruits of these plants absorb these chemicals and retain them, making them dangerous to one’s health.
- Due to the wrong disposal of most single-use plastics, they go on to block drainage ways in times of rainfall, and in the event of a thunderstorm when the probability of flash flooding is high they can compromise the effectiveness of drainage ways thereby increasing the potential of flooding. A total of 1,185 persons are known to die due to flash flooding and plastic blockage of drainage is a contributing factor to this.
- Most animals on water and land confuse plastic for food and then they consume them, this goes on to block their digestive tract and cause death.
- Single-use plastic forms a good habitat for the reproduction of mosquitoes when they contain water in them after being disposed of. Mosquitoes are a vector of the deadly disease malaria which kills about 409,000 yearly. They also create a good environment for the growth of the different micro organization
- 11 Causes of Soil Degradation
- 7 Effects of Indoor Air Pollution
- 6 Effects of Ocean Pollution
- Top 11 Effects of Water Pollution on Aquatic Life
- 12 Causes of Land Pollution, Effects & Solutions