Since the 1950s we’ve created over 8 billion metric tons of plastic. That’s the equivalent of 25,000 Empire State Buildings, one billion adult elephants, or one Donald Trump ego. Plastic is definitely more useful than the latter but can still be environmentally destructive and, unfortunately, we can’t vote it out of existence (but we can take other actions, as we’ll go into).
So where does all that plastic go? If you accidentally leave your plastic bottle or fork somewhere, what happens to it? What happens if you put your old mobile case in the bin?
A plastic item’s journey continues long after its initial purpose is served, due to the fact it takes so long to biodegrade. According up-to-date scientific research, these are the most likely scenarios.
If you throw plastic into the regular bin, not recycling, then this is where it will go. That is if it doesn’t get blown overboard along the way. Once in a landfill, it can take plastic up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Plastic bags anything from 10 years, and bottles 450+ years.
When plastic does eventually break down, it does so into tiny particles that can sometimes leak into the soil and water. These are the infamous microplastics—pieces smaller than 5 millimetres—and they get everywhere.
It's estimated that 79% of plastic ends up in nature. But the natural world wasn’t ready for plastic. It is, after all, unnatural.
Plastic has been found on the very deepest seabeds, in arctic ice, and in distressing amounts on remote islands in the middle of oceans. When plastic enters the oceans it breaks down quicker and releases toxins. Plastic pollution is responsible directly for the death of millions of marine creatures every year.
Fun fact: the biggest beach clean up removed almost 30,000 tons of plastic from a single beach
You’re probably already acutely aware of the plastic issue in our oceans, but how about on land? A recent study found that 1,000 metric tons of plastic, or 125 million bottles, fell on just 11 of America’s national parks last year. It’s carried there by the same wind, rain and snow that transports dust and sand around the globe. Plastic as an airborne pollutant is still being researched, but it’s extremely likely that we’re breathing it in, which brings us onto the next potential stop in our journey.
Scientists estimate that, globally, we eat a credit card of plasticevery week. It gets into us from clothes, products that we use that contain microbeads, and also from the food we eat. Microplastics have been found in everyday foods and drinks, such as water, beer, shellfish and salt.
Scientists estimate we eat around 5g of plastic a week
The health risks are still being investigated, but it’s though that some chemicals found in plastic can cause hormone imbalances that impact development in children, amongst other things. You can read more about the health risks here.
A low percentage, 9%, of plastic waste is recycled into something else. Despite the best efforts of you guys at home, this is how much is actually processed into a new product. Another issue is that most plastics can only be recycled 2-3 times before they become unusable, at which point they are sent to landfills.
Despite our best efforts, the hardy nature of plastic makes it extremely difficult to contain and manage. Even the best waste management systems struggle to stop it all from entering the environment. Scientists are making breakthroughs with innovations such as plastic eating enzymes, however these are still at early stages and it’s unlikely even they will be able to stop all the plastic we produce from entering the environment. To tackle this issue, we have to go to the source, which is the creation of plastic and plastic products themselves.
As we’ve discussed plastic is everywhere, and hidden inside products where you least expect it, including paper cups and teabags. You can reduce the amount of plastic you use by switching to products made from natural or earth-friendly alternatives such as biodegradable plastics. Glass and aluminium are infinitely recyclable, although if either end up in the environment they can take as long, if not longer, to break down (glass is up to 1 million years) and there’s a limit to what we can produce with them.
You can easily avoid plastic in your day to day by:
- Taking a reusable bag for shopping
- Use foil or beeswax wraps to keep food fresh
- Take a reusable coffee cup, bottle or thermos to hold your preferred beverage
- Switch out your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush
- Say no to single plastic cutlery, try bamboo cutlery instead.
For our plastic-free mobile cases, we developed a form of plastic made from the byproduct (waste material) from linseed farming that can be composted in your back garden, or recycled into a new case multiple times via our circularity programme. This means that, either way, your case won’t pollute the environment and potentially end up inside you!