There have been many reports over the past few months about plastic pollution and steps that governments around the world, including Taiwan, are taking to reduce the amount of plastics that end up in landfills or pollute the oceans and the air.
The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in February announced a timetable to reduce the use of plastic products commonly found in marine pollution, such as plastic straws, takeaway beverage cups and disposable tableware, before outright bans are imposed.
On Thursday, the British government said it would draft a ban on the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds as part of a 25-year plan to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.
China has since Jan. 1 banned the import of plastic waste, which is having a trickle-down effect on many nations that had outsourced their waste processing to China for two decades or more and now have to find ways to handle their own garbage.
There has also been a growing number of reports about marine life killed by plastics, such as a sperm whale that washed ashore in southern Spain in February with 29 kilos of plastic debris — everything from bags, ropes and nets to a plastic jug — in his stomach.
It is no wonder then that the theme of this year’s Earth Day, which is tomorrow, is ending plastic pollution. Not only global warming threatens the survival of life on Earth — the exponential growth in the use of plastics does as well.
Only septuagenarians and their seniors are likely to remember a world before plastics became ubiquitous, as the high-density polyethylene that made plastic water bottles a common item was not introduced until the early 1960s, about the same time that polystyrene foam began to be used for beverage and food containers and packing material.
Polyethylene terephthalate, which made it possible to bottle sodas in plastic, came along in 1973, a year after microbeads were introduced to the market — the same decade when plastic grocery bags and straws gradually replaced their paper counterparts.
The creeping plasticization of the world has been so insidious that most people are unaware of the amount of plastic they consume, either economically or literally.
Even paper disposable coffee cups are lined with polyethylene, which will at some point break down into the microplastics and nanoplastics now commonly found in the digestive tracts of fish, bivalves, sea cucumbers, seabirds and other wildlife, just like the microfibers shed by polyester synthetic wool clothing every time it is washed.
The dangers come not just from the microscopic plastic particles, but from the toxic metals, such as cadmium, lead and arsenic, that are transported into the tissues of the animals that eat them and then upward through the food chain.
Many teabags contain polypropylene to help them hold their shape, while potato chips and other snack food bags are often lined with a metallized plastic film. Researchers in Spain, China, France and the US have also found microplastics in many varieties of sea salt.
It can take between 100 and 10,000 years for plastics to be broken down, but they never really go away: They end up in the soil, air, water and food we eat.
The Earth Day Network, which helps coordinate global Earth Day events, says the goal of the day is education: informing people of the threats to the environment and steps that they can take to combat pollution and adopt more sustainable lifestyles.
While it is great that the EPA and its counterparts worldwide are finally taking steps to reduce the use of the not-really-disposable “disposable plastics,” it is really up to consumers to take action on their own to curb their use of plastics in whatever form.
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