Why Plastics Play an Important Role in Our Lives and How They Have Contributed to Pollution

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HSIE Speech Environment

Plastics are one of the most essential substance in this era. Its convenience and capabilities are praised, but its effects on polluting the environment is generally disregarded. Since the introduction of commercial use of plastic bags 30 years ago, there has been a decline in the health of the environment. The littering of plastic has continued to destroy the ecosystem and marine life as the rubbish gathers in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Due to plastic’s slow rate of biodegrading, it will impact future generations negatively as they will struggle to live in an unpolluted world.

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Plastic bags are used widely throughout the world for their convenience and simplicity but its negative effects on the ecosystem are not so easily observable. Around 1 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded every year worldwide. Australia contributes 3.92 billion of plastic bag to the 1 trillion. Out of the 3.92 billion, 3.76 billion are disposed of in landfill sites through Australia. It is also estimated 50 million plastic bags enter the litter stream every year in Australia. Australians are the second highest producers of waste, behind America who produce 728 kg of waste a year per person where we produce 690 kg a year per person. Due to this plastic waste, thousands of animals die each year attempting to consume it. Over 100,000 marine and land animals are negatively affected by these plastic bags. In particular, sea turtles consume plastic bags thinking they are jelly fish, resulting in them choking and dying. Although the effects of plastic bags has already impacted our world, we are still able to reduce future problems by reducing our plastic usage. Simply using a reusable bag instead of a plastic bags could dramatically slow down the disposal of plastic bags. Participating in Clean Up Australia Day will definitely help the reduction of animal deaths. There is an average of half a million shopping bags collected every year on Clean Up Australia Day, although it is little compared to the amount littered, it still assists the environment. The littering of plastics has added to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and continues to pollute this world.

The littering of plastic has continued to destroy the ecosystem and marine life as rubbish gathers in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. The Garbage Patch is actually comprised of the Western Garbage Patch, located next to Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. These patches were formed due to the oceanic currents. These include the California, North Equatorial, Kuroshiro and North Pacific currents, their interaction creates the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lays within the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Humanity’s littering has led to the rubbish to end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is estimated that the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch range from 700,000 square kilometres, which is approximately the size of Texas, to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres. Los Angeles contributes 10 tons of plastic to this garbage patch alone. Although this garbage patch seems like it would have visible rubbish, most of the plastic has broken down into smaller fragments. The effects of the breaking down on plastic impacts the ecosystem in many ways. One of these ways is the phytoplankton consuming these broken down plastics. This will lead to other animals consuming the phytoplankton, which means they are also consuming plastic. Due to the size of the plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is very difficult to clean up. Also, no nation will take responsibility or provide the funding to clean it up as it is far away from any country’s coastline. Although this is the case, there are many individuals and international organisations that are dedicated to preventing the patch from growing. Reducing our plastic usage will help slow down the growth of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Though we are attempting to clean up the world, the slow process of plastics biodegrading will render the clean-up useless.

Due to plastic’s slow rate of biodegrading, it will impact further generations negatively as they will struggle to live in an unpolluted world. Biodegradation is the chemical dissolution of materials by bacteria, fungi or other biological means. Different products biodegrade at different rates, a paper towel degrades in 2-4 month whereas a cotton cloth may take 5 months. Plastic has an estimated time to decompose from 20 to 1000 years. Although this is true, Daniel Burd was able to show that plastic can degrade faster than 20 to 1000 years. His discovery of plastic consuming microorganisms was able to reduce the decomposition time of plastic from 20 to 1000 years to only 3 months. Other than Burd’s method, the only other “effective” way of breaking plastic down is through photodegredation. This decomposition requires sunlight instead of bacteria, but with this process, plastic break downs into smaller pieces, causing more environmental problems than solving. Many animals including phytoplankton, albatrosses and turtles consume these plastics causing many deaths. Due to the long breakdown of plastics, the plastics consumed by the animals continue to circulate the food chain and will not stop for centuries. Because of this slow breakdown process, plastic is able to be reused a lot but its fragile build causes it to become undesirable to reuse. To help increase the speed of the degradation of plastic, investing in Burd’s method of breaking down plastic would be very beneficial to the environment. He stated “Industrial application should be easy. All you need is a fermenter. . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags.” proving that breaking down plastic on a large scale could be very easy.

Plastic is a very essential item to our lives but its effects are very damaging to the environment. Its mass production has impacted the world negatively but these effects are not easily observable. The use of plastic bags and the littering of it has destroyed the ecosystem. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has formed due to the littering of plastics has caused many issues with marine life. Plastic’s slow biodegradation rate has damaged the environment and it will affect future generations.

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