What is plastic waste

Plastic waste or plastic pollution represents the accumulation of plastic materials, such as PET bottles, cutlery and packaging, in Earth's environment.

Because most of it reaches fragile ecosystems, plastic waste can affect wildlife, the habitat of animals and even human health.

Some experts say that every minute, around a garbage truck-worth of plastic waste reaches our oceans and every year, this accumulates to some 11 million tons of plastic that gets into our planet's waters.

On average, humans ingest around 5 grams of plastic every week from plastic bottles, plastic plates and different food packaging.

Some types of plastics can take more than 400 years to fully decompose, since the material is very resilient to natural degradation.

Types of plastic waste

Not all plastic waste is the same, however, as there are multiple types of plastic materials that are used for different needs, but generally speaking, plastic is made from things like coal, natural gas, salt or petroleum.

One of the most common plastics that you can find in your local supermarket, for example, is Polyethylene Terephthalate or PET.

This strong, yet lightweight type of plastic is mostly transparent and is used for things like food and beverage packaging and sometimes as fabric in the form of polyester.

Polyethylene is another type of plastic, which comes in low density, linear low density and high density and is also a very common type of plastic.

It is being used as a building material for pipes, containers, but also buckets and toys.

Polyvinyl Chloride, known as PVC or Vinyl, is a type of plastic that is resistant to chemicals and weather, which makes it suitable for building materials.

Being germs-repellent, it works great for medical applications as well. but it is worth mentioning that, despite being used for medical applications, this type of plastic is also very dangerous to human health since it contains things like lead.

How plastic waste affects the environment

Since plastic waste stays in the environment for many years before it fully decomposes, there are a lot of ways it can negatively influence ecosystems.

Because nearly all plastics are made from some sort of fossil fuel, throughout their existence in nature, they spread toxins either in the ground or water or even inside animals, should they eat plastic waste.

Burning plastic waste is definitely not a solution either, since it releases the same aforementioned toxins and even contributes to global warming.

By reaching nature, plastic waste inevitably makes a return in our lives, more specifically in our bodies, through the food and beverages we consume, since it infiltrates in the soil, waters and even fruits and vegetables.

Recycling plastic waste

In theory, most types of plastic waste can be recycled, but at the same time, it is important to note that not all plastics are easily recyclable.

This happens because of the fact that some plastics are harder to separate, but sometimes there are other factors that affect the recyclability, such as the material itself being contaminated by food and various substances.

Also, as recycling facilities cost a lot of money to be built and to operate, processing plastic waste can only be profitable as long as a large enough quantity is available.

Using biodegradable materials to fight plastic waste

Besides recycling and preventing the accumulation of litter, making biodegradable plastic is one of the more effective ways to fight plastic waste, at least on a theoretical level.

In order to be considered biodegradable, a certain type of plastic must not contain high levels of heavy metals and 90% of its composition has to degrade into CO2 within six months of the material being exposed to nature's elements, such as sunlight and water.

Also, for plastic waste to be considered biodegradable, its final form must not be harmful to plants.

How to prevent plastic waste

There are some things we can do in our daily lives which can help reduce us relying on plastic materials and thus, reduce the accumulation of plastic waste in nature.

Trying to reduce the amount of disposable plastic objects that we use is a great place to start.

Reuse that plastic bag so you don't have to buy a new one every time you go to the store or use a fabric one is an ideal way of getting your grocery shopping done without harming the environment.

Also, when hosting a barbecue party, try to use less plastic cutlery and try using stainless steel cutlery and glass plating.

Another way to stop plastic waste is using your old plastic bottle instead of buying a new one every time you are thirsty.

This way you can potential save on some money and also on the environment, as reutilizing the same bottle of water has a much lower environmental footprint.

Cooking instead or ordering can be of great help when it comes to limiting the amount of plastic waste that reaches the environment and this can also benefit your health as well as your wallet, as it can be cheaper to cook your own meal instead of eating out all the time.

Recycling is another crucial step when it comes to fighting plastic waste, as it means that instead of reaching sensitive ecosystems, these materials can be reused and reimplemented in different products.

Try sorting your own litter and if your local authority isn't involved in recycling, you can search for a specialized recycling company that can take care of your plastic waste and other types of disposable items that can be processed and reused later.

These are just a few steps we can all take to reduce the amount of plastic waste that is being found in Earth's waters and on land, as it is crucial to deal with this issue so we can all have a healthier future and save the planet's ecosystems.