Because plastic is so cheap we use it for just about everything. The world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today. (WRAP) and much of that has been used to make disposable packaging and products. It is cheaper to give away a new cup every time then to collect and wash re-useables. Supermarkets can afford to give out bags so that shoppers need not limit their purchases. Fast food outlets can serve food to go in throwaway containers with one use cutlery.
in the UK we generate 3 million tonnes of plastic waste annually 56% of which is used packaging, three-quarters of which is from households. (waste on-line)
Because plastic is a synthetic substance, it doesn’t biodegrade. While every other thing on the planet is decomposing most plastic remains unchanged.
Here’s how long it takes for some commonly used natural products to biodegrade, when they are scattered about as litter:
Paper ~ 2-5 months
Cotton rags ~ 1-5 month
Natural fiber rope ~ 3-14 months
Orange peel ~6 months
Wool socks ~1 to 5 years
Leather shoes ~25 to 40 years
Tin cans ~ 50 to 100 years
But because plastic is man-made, the natural enzymes and the micro organisms responsible for breaking down organic substances do not recognize most plastics – whether they are derived from oil or plants. Find out more here.
Which means it cannot be composted, or left to rot where it is dropped, like organic rubbish.
Every bit of plastic litter HAS TO BE PICKED UP and specially disposed of, which doesn’t always happen, is expensive to do and each disposal method has its drawbacks. Burning plastic can release extremely toxic chemicals so has to be done with care, put it in landfills and it just sits there and recycling is not always an option nor is it always cost-effective.
Worse still we use plastic for fast food packaging, sweet wrappers and disposable cups – things that are used for minutes before being discarded. Things that end up as litter. Because it is made out of plastic, and has a life span of decades, it is now everlasting litter. Not suprisingly plastic litter is increasing exponentially and with dreadful consequences.
Visit our FB gallery of world-wide plastic pollution to see more.