How plastic is affecting the environment and what we can do about it.

Plastic Water Bottles. Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Plastic is something we use or see daily. It is what you drink water in and what you throw your trash in. It is in almost everything we use. Plastic has changed the Earth in good and bad ways.

Leo Baekeland “Bakelite First Synthetic Plastic — National Historic Chemical Landmark.” American Chemical Society, www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/bakelite.html.

Leo Baekeland invented plastic in 1907. Baekeland was born on November 14, 1863, in Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium. He went to Ghent University in 1884 and taught at the university until 1889. Then, he decided to move to New York to continue studying chemistry.

Apples in a plastic bag. Photo by Sophia Marston on Unsplash

After coming to the US Baekeland joined a photography firm. After a couple of years, he discovered a photographic paper called Velox. He later sold the rights to a company for a million dollars. Baekeland started his own research in 1905 to find a substitute to shellac, which was a natural electrical insulator.

In 1907, he invented Bakelite, which was the first modern plastic. Bakelite blew up. It was heat resistant, durable, and it could change in many ways. It was fist modern plastic. This led to many people investing to form new types of plastic.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the production cost of plastic dropped massively. Plastic had spread everywhere. It was the cheapest material you could find that was also durable so every company wanted to use this somehow.

Plastic bags were made in the early 1960s by Sten Gustaf Thulin. They were so cheap that they completely took over and the paper bags were gone.

Polyethylene is another common plastic. It is the most used plastic. It was created by accident in Northwich, England. It is used in milk cartons, bottle caps, crates, trays, and bottles.

Plastic kept growing but then Charles Moore, a sailor, and researcher discovered the great pacific garbage patch which was filled with plastic. It was harming marine life so many people took action.

Plastic and other litter along the ocean. Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash

Other materials we use like cotton take only five to six months to decompose. Wood takes around fifty years and metals like tin also take fifty years. Most plastics take one thousand years to decompose. That is what makes plastic a problem. It keeps growing and it stays there for a thousand years.

Plastic water bottle in the ocean. Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Plastic is going into the ocean and staying there. Many animals like sea turtles are eating plastic bags thinking their jellyfish. The turtle’s body can’t get rid of the plastic and the turtle dies. The only way to get rid of plastic is burning it down, which is incredibly toxic. Over 90 percent of all sea birds have plastic in them.

Plastic stays on the Earth for a thousand years, and still, two million plastic bags are distributed worldwide every minute. Plastic is found in every corner of the globe. Five hundred million plastic straws are used every day in America. One million plastic bottles are sold every minute in the world. Just try to wrap your head around that!

A tap running water. Photo by Imani on Unsplash

Plastic is also effecting us humans in many ways. A recent study tested 153 drinking water samples from around the world and 83% of them contain microplastic fibers. So there is a chance that plastic is in your water which is a big problem. Microplastic is plastic that breaks down into smaller pieces, smaller than the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Microplastics are very common in lakes, rivers, and oceans and that’s how it is in our water. It’s also in seafood and sea salt. Microplastics absorb toxic chemicals from the environment and then releases them later which is very harmful to the human body. Some people are trying to change this so humans stay healthy and the world keeps thriving.

Boy picking plastic up. Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

People every day are trying to help the environment by picking up plastic from the oceans and doing something to reduce plastic pollution. Non-profit organizations like 5 Gyres, Clear Blue Sea, and Plastic Oceans are taking a step forward and trying to reduce plastic waste.

Many countries are taking action on banning plastic. Canada aims to ban single-use plastic by 2020. Only two states (CA and HI) in the U.S. have banned plastic bags. Plastic bags are banned in 32 countries and 18 of them are in Africa. They are also banned in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and China.

“The Ocean Cleanup.” The Ocean Cleanup, theoceancleanup.com/.

Many people are discovering things like caterpillars that eat plastic. People are also making new technologies like the guys who started The Ocean Cleanup. The Ocean Cleanup captures plastic in the ocean using the black floater which is in a U shape in the image to the right. Then a ship comes and gathers all the collected plastic, takes it to a city to get recycled into other products. This a very neat idea and they expect to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These new discoveries could eventually save our planet.

You don’t have to start an organization to save the world. Many people doing a small thing can still save the world. Bring a reusable bag when going shopping, using reusable water bottles, or just recycling. These small things are going to change the world.

Sea Turtle. Photo by Cédric Frixon on Unsplash

Curious High Schooler, who loves to share new and exciting stories. Email: lakshya5jain@gmail.com