As holiday shopping hits its peak, we see more and more plastic everywhere! All that plastic eventually finds its way into our rivers, oceans, and natural spaces, harming various ecosystems around the world. Scientists know that, every minute, we dump about one garbage truck's worth of plastic into the ocean. Serious situations require asking serious questions: How do we lower plastic pollution?
The holiday season means lots and lots of shopping. One thing we encounter in nearly every aspect of shopping these days is plastics! Plastics are a big part of our consumer world and when you add it all up, it’s a lot of plastic. In fact, in 2016, humanity created about 320 million tons of plastic, of which about 40% were single use items. By 2034, this number is predicted to double! Scientists around the world know that plastic pollution is a big problem for our environment, but how to address this big plastic issue?
The oceans, especially, are feeling the impacts. Several studies show a huge amount of plastics can be found in depths we would not expect. Plastics found in our oceans, on land, and even in our animals, are a clear sign that we need to begin to fix these issues!
For that, we'll need to look into a myriad of options ranging from the natural to the policy based. Several papers have been published about the detrimental impacts of plastics in the environment. To address these various issues, we'll need many different options on how to combat the spread of plastics. While there are many different ideas in the works, we wanted to share two that really stood out as recent plastic-related news items.
Plastic, meet fungus:
Recently a potential solution was found in a landfill in Pakistan - a fungus! This fungus seems to feed off plastic, breaking down plastics’ molecular bonds in the process. What a great opportunity for us to learn about the biological functions that cause this to happen! We have yet to see if this is something that we can replicate in labs and what the future impacts would be on various ecosystems. More lab testing is needed to see the full impact of this relationship, but it’s perhaps a hopeful sign in addressing the millions of tons of plastic left as waste on Earth.
Plastics and the Land Down under:
Australia is leading the way in a lot of interesting science research, ranging from habitat restoration to solar energy, but they are also working on curbing humanity's plastic addiction. Two of Australia’s largest grocery retailers (Woolworths and Coles) have cut out plastic bags, and the entire country has seen an 80% reduction in plastic bag usage. Reports indicate that in three months, they were able to prevent nearly 1.5 billion bags from entering the environment.
What about us?
A friendly reminder for plastic-concerned holiday shoppers - use cloth bags, don’t buy stuff with excessive plastic packaging, and skip the plastic straw for those holiday drinks - just a few ways to reduce our plastic footprint. Conservationists also encourage dialogue between customers and stores on how to reduce plastic bag usage, incentivize cloth bag usage, stock brands with eco-friendly packaging, and other ideas which ultimately make our relationship to plastics a little more balanced and healthier for our planet. Together we can give the Earth a little plastic surgery...we're not talking about a nose job here, folks.