NASA image of Earth

NASA image

Our Earth has a human-induced plastic problem. Plastic fills our dumps, our land, and oceans, and our air. Plastics not only make containers and equipment but are in cars, clothes, food packages, candy wrappers, papers, cigarettes, and our media devices. Just about everything has plastics in it, including our drinking water, food, and our bodies. The problem is we don’t know the ultimate effect of microplastics on our environment or within our bodies or how to remove them.

Earth’s land, water, and air are not ours, but part of the Earth where we live. Yes, you intuitively know that, but we act like we own the Earth. Some say God gave us this world to do with as we please. If so, he never promised a second world.

Plastics are necessary, and many people remain ignorant or uncaring about the problems that come from the unplanned disposal of all the plastic products we use. Our ever-increasing need for plastics and the resulting pollution expands as our populations’ demand for products surpass the limits of the Earth’s natural products to provide them.

We do not know all the dangers of the plastics to the Earth, but we can see what is happening in our waters. Many of us have seen the images of fish, seals, turtles, and other creatures caught up in plastics. We have islands of plastic floating in our oceans. Helen Briggs points out in a BBC article what might be happening to our water wildlife. She states “A study found bits of plastic outnumber baby fish by seven to one in the nursery waters off Hawaii,” AND, “There is growing evidence that plastic is being ingested by marine life, but the health implications are unclear.”

“Not only does it contaminate our oceans, but 22 million pounds of plastic are dumped into the Great Lakes every year” (Tony Briscoe, Chicago Tribune). Now, how they measured this I’m unsure, but I think its safe to say, we throw huge amounts of plastic into our waterways.

Plus, in Michigan, where every square inch is watershed for the Great Lakes, the state has tons of plastics dumped into landfills that have grown into mountains. Plastic in landfills may take 1000 years to decompose, and scientists are not sure how microparticles, those very tiny plastic particles that remain plastic and are now found in Earth’s air, water, and soil, will affect our ecosystems (UN Environment Program). Humans also freely dispose of any unwanted trash, much of it plastic, on roadsides, sidewalks, nature trails, and in our local, state, and national parks. I know because I help pick it up. We’ve all seen images of marine life caught in plastic, but it goes further, affecting microorganisms.

So, if you don’t care about what effect plastics are having on the chain of life, do you care that you now have microplastics in your body? They are in your water, even your beer and other liquid products, and in the food you consume. Microplastics are in the air you breathe. So what? The Ecology Center explains more and gives problem information related to each type of plastic. Microplastics can toxify your body with lead, cadmium, or mercury. It can damage fatty acids, which are important in brain function. It can affect other important body chemistry which can cause indigestion or depression problems. Further, it can lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or pancreas or thyroid damage as well as have effects on testosterone.

What makes plastics? Plastics are objects made from malleable synthetic or organic polymers, of repeating, often very long molecular threads of carbon and other elemental atoms. Biopolymers are natural and found in every living organism, but synthetic polymers differ. While biopolymers are the foundation of some of our natural products like cotton, linen, paper, and silk, synthetic polymers are man-made plastics. They play an important role in our way of life. Yes, they are made of natural elements but differ.

When was plastic invented? Alexander Parkes, a British scientist, invented the first plastic Parkesine in 1856 and through several variations became registered as celluloid in 1872. It is based on the natural compound cellulose. Celluloid became important in the photography and film industries. Movies were made from it.

Bakelite was patented by Leo Baekeland in 1907 and it was the first plastic made from synthetic materials. It soon formed the body components or containers of radios, telephones, and other household products. The invention of Bakelite led to the development of many other plastics.

This means that in 1000 years all known plastics used in the last 148 years will have degenerated into the elements that made them. If we control our disposal and find safe disposable systems now.

What makes up plastics today? Based on the materials used to create plastic, we have seven basics types of plastic which create products now vital to our way of life. They compose many of our appliances, containers, clothes, and even vehicles. The problem is too many people carelessly dispose of them both consciously and unconsciously.

Each type of plastic differs from others. Some are reusable, but others can become hazardous material after usage. Some plastics are easily recyclable, others are more difficult.

Take your nearest plastic product, maybe the lunch box you brought from home, your water bottle, your instant noodle cup. Study it closely, and you might find a number at its back or bottom. You probably already know what the number represents. It indicates the product’s type of plastic.

Seven types of plastic exist, Types 1, 2 and 5 are considered the safest for food and 1 and 2 are the most recyclable.
Type 1: PET or PETE, or Polyester (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is primarily used for food and beverage packaging as it helps prevent oxygen from entering a package’s contents. It also produces a wrinkle-free fabric. It does contain antimony which is a carcinogen and can contaminate any food or liquid stored in it for long or if the plastic is heated. This type of plastic is recyclable.
Type 2: HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) is a dense and strong plastic used in plastic bags and bottles for products from milk to shampoo to medicines, and is also recyclable.
Type 3: PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) plastics make toys, medical bags and tubing, and loose-leaf binders among many uses. It is considered a hazardous plastic and is usually not recyclable. The chemicals used to make it can be hazardous to health.
Type 4, LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) “has the simplest plastic polymer chemical structure, making it very easy and very cheap to process.” Plastic bags, plastic wraps, milk cartons, beverage cups, and covering for wire are common products using this plastic, but It is difficult to recycle.
Type 5, PP (Polypropylene) makes up hot food containers and diapers. It isn’t recyclable.
Type 6: PS (Polystyrene) or Styrofoam is used for certain food containers, helmet lines, and packing materials. Hot oily food can leach styrene, a component that could damage the brain and nervous system. Polystyrene is also hard to recycle.
Type 7: Is all other plastics, which can be layers of several types of plastics, but also PC or Polycarbonate which is used for many infant products and food containers. It can cause many health problems and should be avoided as harmful and toxic in certain amounts
More sources for explanations of plastic types: Quality Logo Product, or at Non-Toxic Revolution or at How Stuff Works.

The public’s ignorance of plastic types has led to many of our problems. Disposable to most humans means throwing the product away– anywhere, but that is not always the best answer.

The biggest question is what needs to be done and can it be done? What can you do?

Note: Published in both my gardening and writing blogs.g blogs.