Plastic free July is a global campaign to help individuals rid themselves of plastic in order to help the environment.

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Plastic Free July – Photo Credit

Plastic: How it began

Originally the meaning of the word plastic meant “pliable and easily shaped”. John Wesley Hyatt invented the first synthetic plastic. He had seen an advertisement for $10,000 for someone to make an alternative to ivory. The game billairds had affected the supply of natural ivory due to its popularity. Hyatt made a discovery that mixing cellulose (from cotton fibre), and camphor (an oil extracted from the camphor tree). This made an alternative to ivory and other natural materials. This new discovery could be moulded into different shapes and could be made to resemble tortoise shell, horn, linen and ivory.

This discovery helped both humans and animals. Humans didn’t need to “rely” on the natural world for manufacturing products, and plastic protected the natural world from being exploited by humans.

Billairds ball made from ivory – Photo Credit

Bracelet made from turtleshell Photo Credit

Plastic is a useful product because its lightweight, cheap, durable, long lasting and easily mould-able into different shapes and sizes. Plastic is everywhere in our home, our clothes and even in hospitals.

Plastic can’t be that harmful to our environment, can it? Keep reading to find out the answer!

how plastic is made

Coal, crude oil and natural gas are commonly used to make plastic. Crude oil is a fossil fuel formed deep into the ground from the remains of deceased plants and animals from a long time ago. Crude oil is extracted by drilling deep into the land or ocean. Crude oil is also used to make gasoline and the production of plastics, pharmaceutrials and cleaning products. Approximately 8% – 10% of crude oil supply goes into making plastic.

Different types of oil drilling Photo Credit
Video discusses history of plastic, how it is made and the problems with plastic.

The problem with plastic

A beach covered in plastic items Photo Credit

I have already said that plastic is a useful product because its long lasting, but this is the problem with plastic. Plastic takes a long time to break down, depending on the type of plastic this can be anywhere between 450-1000 years for it to fully break down.

Single use plastics are one of the biggest problems of plastic pollution. These are products which are made solely to be used once and then thrown away or recycled.

During 2015 research showed that 381 tonnes of plastic were produced annually. Compared to the 1950s where just 2 million tons were produced. Approximately half of the plastic that is made is disposable.

Disposable plastics include: Plastic bags, straws, coffee cups, coffee stirrers, water bottles and most food packaging.

Plastic free July states that the top 4 plastic bag guys are: plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and plastic straws.

Plastic is everywhere

As we already know plastic is long lasting, and this causes another problem when it comes to disposing of it. Plastic can be recycled but shockingly only 9% is actually recycled!

If plastic isn’t being recycled where is it going? When plastic isn’t recycled its either incinerated or sent to landfil and from there it evenutally makes its way into the ocean.

How plastic gets into the ocean – Photo Credit

It is estimated by scientists that 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year. This will add to the already estimated 150 million metric tons already in the ocean. This is equivalent to a garbage truck full of plastic going into the ocean every minute.

Ocean plastic lying on the surface of the water stops light from the sun reaching plankton and algae, which need the sun for photosynthesis. If these organisms die this creates a food shortage for other animals, which will have a knock on affect further up the food chain.

Ocean food chain – Photo credit

The issues with ocean plastic doesn’t stop there. If its ingested it can cause intestinal blockage, abrasions and punctures in internal organs. Having a stomach full of plastic can lead to starvation. Its not just sea turtles and whales 633 marine species have now been affected.

It gets even worse: MICRO PLASTICS

Micro Plastics – Photo Credit

Since plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it instead breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. There is an estimated 15-51 trillion micro plastic particles in our ocean.

Fish eat micro plastic thinking its their food. In turn a bigger fish will eat this fish, and so on and so forth, travelling further up to food chain until it reaches us. In fact, Plymouth University carried out a study which found that a third of UK caught fish contained plastic inside them.

Plastic Free July – Photo Credit

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Are you surprised by the scale of the plastic problem?? Leave a comment below or Tweet at me.

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Thank you for reading,


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3 thoughts on “Plastic: Friend or foe?

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