Humans make about 300 million tons of plastic a year, but more than a quarter of this amount is not recycled. Plastic is non-biodegradable and some of it can take over 500 years to breakdown while other plastic never fully decompose. In the grocery store, almost everything is made of plastic, from packaging to the little stickers on fruits. Single-use plastic products are taking up our everyday lives, and yet it is an incredibly environmentally irresponsible material. For three teenage girls, the issue has been infuriating enough that they have begun a social media campaign against plastic: The Plastic Bottle Hate Club.
I had a Facetime conversation with Carly (not her real name) a 15-year-old girl who has noticed that teenagers her age use a lot of plastic on the daily from Starbucks cups to the plastic water bottles. Carly is one of the co-founders of the Plastic Bottle Hate Club, an Instagram account created to promote awareness about climate change and plastic pollution. According to Carly, “Plastic pollution is one of the most important environmental problems that we face today.” She explained to me how most of the time humans contribute to plastic pollution without knowing it, so by creating the Plastic Bottle Hate Club she and her friends hope that they can encourage people to think twice and ultimately reduce plastic pollution even if it’s just by a little bit. They thought that the best way to reach people, and teenagers especially, is through Instagram. They post graphs, pictures and facts about the plastic pollution crisis. Carly and her friends want people to be aware of how small acts of replacing single-use plastic items with reusable items, like reusable water bottles, can change our future. We could be saving our animals and reducing the risks of catastrophic climate change. Carly informed me that “plastic pollution is worse than we think.” Developing countries around the world like Indonesia are suffering from a plastic pollution crisis, as one of their rivers located in the west is covered in plastic.
Plastic can cause a lot of harm to our environment. There is a huge amount of single-use plastics such as plastic bags, much of which cannot be recycled at all. Only 9% of all plastic that is used is actually recycled. Most plastic that is not recycled ends up in landfills and oceans, destroying our environment and the wildlife.
Rainwater mixes together with the piled up plastic in landfills which makes a dangerous substance called leachate, that pollutes fresh groundwater and damages the soil.
When plastic ends up in our oceans, it floats around for years and eventually all the plastic comes together in gyres, called garbage patches. There are millions of pieces of plastic stuck in each of these gyres, with five big garbage patches around the world. The largest is called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These garbage patches are dangerous to ocean wildlife. Animals devour the plastic thinking it is their food and end up starving to death because plastic makes them feel full when they are not.
But just because you put your plastic in the recycling, don’t think that means it is definitely recycled. When Canadians recycle plastic, it is sent to recycling facilities where it is compressed into big blocks which then is washed and melted so it can be reused for the future. However, Myra Hird from the School of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University told CBC News that the big blocks of plastic get auctioned off to different companies around the world including China and Malaysia and after that, we just do not know what happens to the plastic.
The existence of youth-run social media campaigns like the Plastic Bottle Hate Club shows a growing awareness about plastic pollution. Although grocery stores are trying to cut back plastic production by charging for plastic bags will that really help reduce the amount of plastic that is released into our oceans and landfills? This year, the state of California officially banned serving drinks with plastic straws unless asked for by customers. According to Business Insider, “Violating the law can cost a restaurant $25 a day.” Straws and plastic bags do contribute to plastic pollution, but real change will require action on a vastly larger scale. Maybe farther-reaching bans could potentially reduce the amount of plastic that is harming our animals, otherwise, it won’t be long before there’s more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Image Credit Pixabay / Byrev