Effects of the ever-growing consumption of single-use plastic on the global ecosystem.
| Around the world, a staggering 1 million single-use plastic beverage bottles are purchased every minute, and up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are consumed every year. Today, the world produces about 300 million tons of plastic waste annually, which almost matches the weight of the entire human population!
Research shows that since the 1950s, the production of plastic amounts to an estimated 8.3 billion tons, of which about 60% has ended up in either landfills or the natural environment. An astounding 8 million tons of plastic gets dumped in the oceans every year, killing thousands of marine animals, fish, and other beings. At this rate, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in marine habitats by 2050.
Apart from the upward-inching curve of the manufacturing of plastic, which is produced from chemicals derived from non-renewable resources like oil, natural gas and coal, the other worrying trend is that at the current rate of production, by 2050, the plastic industry could account for 20% of global oil consumption. This issue is compounded by the fact that the current trend shows a shift away from the production of durable plastic, and towards plastics that are meant to be thrown away after a single use. While countries like Taiwan, India, New Zealand, and Canada have banned the utilization of single-use plastic, most countries in the world, including the United States, still continue to consume plastic that ends up as trash after just one use.
The effort to curb the consumption of single-use plastic has taken a backseat during the recent global Coronavirus pandemic. Bars are serving drinks in plastic cups, supermarkets have disallowed bringing one's own reusable grocery satchels and are instead packing purchases in an excessive number of double-layered plastic bags. In addition, offices have started covering everything from doorknobs to elevator buttons in plastic. From personal protective equipment to disposable gloves and face masks, the fear of the pandemic has outweighed concerns about the long-term effects of consuming and disposing of plastic.
It is imperative that we become conscious of the lasting damage to our planet from the ever-increasing consumption of plastic, amplified during this pandemic. The virus will eventually be eliminated from circulating in the human population, perhaps in the next year or so. But our environment will never recover from the irreversible species extinction, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change that plastic pollution has contributed to. Small efforts and planning ahead, like bringing one's own cutlery and reusable bags, avoiding take-out food served in plastic containers, and making consumer choices that minimize packaging are just some examples of the ways in which plastic consumption can be curbed through conscious choices. Isn't the survival of all life on our Earth more important than the convenience of 5 minutes?