The invention of plastics is probably one of humanity’s greatest inventions. These versatile materials have transformed everyday life. It made living a little bit more convenient to say the least. The versatility of plastic made it an ideal use for a wide variety of industries, especially in the foodservice & manufacturing industry. Not only that, but it’s also cheaper to produce, lightweight, resist corrosion, excellent when it comes to heat and electrical insulation. The production of plastic is a big business. The turn over for plastic in Europe is roughly around 300 million euros and employs 1.6 million people (Plastics Europe 2008). It’s all good right? The problem with plastic is that it doesn’t degrade and there is no way to dispose of them properly without environmental consequences. Another problem with plastics is since they don’t degrade, they just break down into smaller fragments called microplastics. This could accumulate in animals like birds, marine animals like fish, whales, and sea turtles.
When it comes to the impact it has on human health and the environment, plastics can cause a plethora of problems, especially in urban areas. So what are some of the impacts of plastic wastes on human health and the environment? Here are some examples;
- Increase the likelihood of floods in urban areas. – The durability of the plastic makes it an ideal candidate for clogging the drainage system. So when heavy rain comes by, rainwater gets trapped unable to be drained in the sewage system. Making it a breeding ground for mosquitos that can carry a wide variety of diseases.
- Build up of toxic chemicals for the consumers – Styrofoam (styrene) containers, a common container among taking out foods contain carcinogenic chemicals that are potentially toxic (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry). The problem with Styrofoam is while the harmful chemicals are intact, but when it is exposed to high temperatures or when it is burned, there is a tendency for those harmful chemicals to be released into the air. So it must be disposed of (burning) in a controlled environment.
- Can affect industries like tourism – for those countries or areas that rely heavily on tourism, plastic waste serves as a problem because for both the marine environment, fishing industry, and shipping (APEC 2009). Plastics can accumulate in marine organisms, like fish but at the same time, plastic pollution can also suffocate some marine creatures that help maintain marine biodiversity.
- Deter funds needed for other areas – The clean up of plastic waste and the amount needed to manage it is costing a lot of cities/ countries. In a study done by the UN, In Europe, the amount of money that is spent on cleaning beach shores amounts to €630 million per year (European Commission, 2015).