Plastic Littering, its Effects and Solutions
Author: Shreya Bhardwaj
Plastic littering is the accumulation of synthetic plastic items in the environment to the point where they endanger wildlife and their habitats, as well as human populations. In 1907, Bakelite introduced fully synthetic plastic resins into global commerce, ushering in a material revolution. Plastics had been discovered to be persistent pollutants in a range of environmental niches by the end of the twentieth century, ranging from Mount Everest to the ocean's depths. Plastics have recently received a lot of attention as a major source of pollution, whether they're mistaken for food by animals, clog drainage systems, or simply cause a lot of visual blight.
The Problem with Plastic
Plastic is a polymeric medium, which means it is mainly composed of massive molecules that resemble lengthy chains with seemingly infinite interconnecting links. Natural polymers like rubber and silk are plentiful, but they haven't been linked to pollution since they don't persist in the environment. Today's customer is exposed to a wide selection of plastic materials designed to combat natural decay processes—materials produced primarily from petroleum that can be moulded, cast, spun, or coated as a coating. Synthetic plastics tend to remain in natural environments since they are mostly non-biodegradable.
Also, many single-use lightweight plastic products and packaging materials, which account for over half of all plastics manufactured, are not kept in containers for disposal in landfills, recycling centres, or incinerators. Instead, when or near the end of their usefulness to the client, they are mistakenly disposed of. They harm the environment the moment they are dumped on the ground, hurled out a car window, stacked into an already overflowing trash can, or carried away by a gust of wind. In many parts of the world, landscapes littered with plastic packaging have become the norm. Despite the fact that urban areas produce the most litter, investigations from around the world have revealed that no particular country or demographic group is the most responsible.
Do you know?
- Plastic from the beaches enters the ocean at a rate of 18 billion pounds per year.
- A glass container could take up to one million years to degrade in the environment.
- Some organisms rely on waste plastic to thrive, creating a "plastisphere," a new type of environment.
- Scientists discovered plastic bags 36,000 feet below sea level in the Mariana Trench.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a trash-filled floating island three times the size of France.
Data to make humans concerned about ‘Plastic Littering’
According to the trade organisation PlasticsEurope, global plastic output increased from 1.5 million metric tonnes per year in 1950 to an estimated 275 million metric tonnes by 2010 and 359 million metric tonnes by 2018. Each year, ocean-coasting countries mostly dump 4.8 million and goes to 12.7 million metric tonnes of rubbish were dumped into the sea. When compared to materials often utilised in the first half of the twentieth century, such as glass, paper, iron, and aluminium, plastics have a low recovery rate. Due to severe processing challenges like as a low melting point, which prevents impurities from being driven off during heating and reprocessing, they are inefficient to reuse as recovered scrap in the manufacturing process. The bulk of recycled plastics are either subsidised at a lower cost than raw materials through various deposit systems, or recycling is simply required by law.
The Intensity of this Issue
Throwaway plastic bottles and plastic bags contribute to the problem of plastic littering, which is a serious environmental concern. They can take hundreds of years to disintegrate when properly disposed of, releasing damaging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Another major source of worry is the damage that scattered plastic poses to animals, particularly sea creatures. Every day, between 13,000 and 15,000 pieces of plastic enter the sea, according to Ocean Crusaders, and these items can kill marine animals if they ingest them or become tangled in them. Despite our understanding of the problem, you may still believe that the sea is usually clean - or that plastic pollution is only found along the coast?
Examine your situation once more. According to a new study, garbage may be found as far as 2,000 kilometres from land and as deep as 4.5 kilometres beneath the water. The programme was sponsored by the University of the Azores, with donations from 15 European organisations. It was a cooperation between Plymouth University's Mapping the Deep Project and the National Oceanography Centre's HERMIONE Project in Southampton. Every investigation site provided litter, with plastic accounting for 41% of all litter found. Glass, textiles, and pottery were among the other items discovered, as was derelict fishing gear (34%).
What Are the Consequences of Littering on the Environment?
Litter, in addition to being unsightly, can have serious environmental consequences.
Pollution is harmful to the environment.
As litter decomposes, chemicals and microparticles are released. As we know that these compounds do not occur naturally in the environment, they can cause a range of problems. Toxins like arsenic and formaldehyde, for example, can be found in cigarette butts. These poisons have the potential to contaminate soil and freshwater supplies, harming both humans and animals. 60 percent of all water pollution is caused by litter.
Toxic to wildlife
Animals are the unwitting victims of trash every day. According to studies, over one million animals die each year as a result of eating or being entangled in carelessly deposited garbage. The most common cause of animal death is plastic litter, with marine animals bearing the brunt of the damage. Every year, more than 100,000 dolphins, fish, whales, turtles, and other marine species die as a result of becoming entangled in or digesting plastic debris.
Litter Aids in Disease Transmission
Trash that has been improperly disposed of is a breeding ground for bacteria and diseases. Diseases, viruses, and parasites can be spread by litter in two ways: direct and indirect contact.
Germs can be spread directly by coming into physical touch with litter. This can occur when people pick up, touch, or injure themselves on poorly disposed rubbish. Bacteria and parasites can also be transmitted to people via a vector that is infected. Animals or insects that come into touch with infected litter and subsequently pass it on to humans are known as vectors.
Litter Prevention and Solutions
Now that we have a better understanding of why litter is bad, we can move on to potential solutions. Here are three ways we can combat litter.
Take part in clean-ups.
To adopt a proactive approach to garbage prevention, attend organised cleanups. Cleaning up your neighbourhood is not only beneficial to the environment, but it also looks good.
It is an excellent idea to increase the number of public garbage cans.
People litter for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of public garbage bins or overflowing dumpsters that are not regularly emptied. Increase the number of available garbage cans and the frequency with which they are cleaned to assist minimise littering.
Strict laws and Regulations Should Be Enforced
Strong anti-litter legislation and regulations are an effective deterrent to plastic littering. When there are substantial legal or financial implications, both individuals and corporations are more likely to observe litter regulations. It is important to create awareness within communities so that we can reduce this issue while we try to also remove the cause from the root. Small habit changes like carrying a reusable water bottle and not using plastic utensils are small but crucial steps we need to take.
Penalties do have an impact on littering behaviour, but education and raising awareness are also important for long-term results. Clean-up events in the community can be an effective approach to propagate anti-litter messages throughout society. In order to reach a wider audience, the topic can be heavily promoted on bulletin boards, television shows, social media platforms, and newsletters. Furthermore, in heavily littered places such as streets near public transportation stations, an anti-littering notice could be erected. Littering is a horrible thing that should be avoided, and these signs serve to remind people of that. Manufacturers of certain items are held responsible for establishing infrastructure to collect and recycle the goods they make under extended producer responsibility.
EPR (Environmental Protection Agency) programmes are a type of responsibility scheme. Governments and the general public are becoming more aware of the catastrophic effects of plastic pollution, and innovative solutions such as increased usage of the zero waste philosophy of biodegradable plastics are gaining traction.