When plastic was first invented, it was believed to be the solution to many of our problems. We even thought that it would help to protect some endangered species, as the demand for ivory went down. Cheap to produce and sturdy, plastic was soon being used to make everything from jewelry to furniture. Then, of course, there was the very popular Tupperware — the lightweight container that helped to store food and keep it fresh. We loved plastic, and why wouldn’t we? It was only as the years went on that the world realized that the things we loved about this man-made material, also meant that it was harmful to our environment.
The Plastic Problem
When we started manufacturing plastic, we started small. In 1950, the entire world produced 2 million tonnes of plastic. Seems like a lot, right? Well, compared to recent years, this figure is tiny. In 2015, the world produced 381 million tonnes of plastic. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this was also single-use plastic, a product that we once thought was amazing, but that we are now living with the consequences of.
With so much plastic, our landfill sites simply can’t cope with the amount that is thrown out every year. 90.5% of plastic has never been recycled and only 12% is incinerated. Yet while incineration does get rid of plastic, it also comes with its own set of problems in the form of the chemicals that are released when this man-made material is burned.
What is Single-Use Plastic?
Single use plastic is plastic that is discarded after it has been used once. The items aren’t always designed to be thrown away, but in many cases are and so still classed as single-use. Think plastic bags, water bottles, cutlery, straws, food packaging… the list goes on and on. These items are the ones that are most commonly found along beaches and in our oceans. They make up a huge percentage of landfill waste every year, and it’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.
The Issues with Single-Use Plastic
The main problem with plastic in general is that is doesn’t degrade. This means that every single piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists on our planet today. Yes, some have broken down into smaller particles, and some has been incinerated — contributing to releasing all of those harmful chemicals going back into the atmosphere — but ultimately, the biggest problem with plastic is that we can’t get rid of it. As single-use plastic is disposable by nature, it is by far the biggest plastic problem that we have. This is why so many people are now trying to have a lifestyle which is as close to zero waste as possible.
At the end of the day, plastics are made from a base of fossil fuel, and the world doesn’t have that many of these non-renewable resources left. The push for further mining and fracking in order to produce these fossil fuels is already damaging our planet, and our dependence on plastic is only making things worse. Mixed with other chemicals, the process of creating plastic is a messy one, and errors in manufacturing have seen water and air pollution on a mass scale. Even if we could get plastic to degrade, we can’t keep making it in the traditional way, which is why avenues to make replacements need to be explored.
Photodegradation and Microplastics
When all of this plastic does reach a landfill, the problems don’t stop. Sunlight does degrade plastic slightly, but this photodegradation only leads to harmful toxins being released into the air and soil, which in turn contributes to climate change and water pollution. In a previous blog,, we looked at the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans, particularly microplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic are everywhere in our oceans, being eaten by marine life and even us. This is the problem that comes from a material that doesn’t decompose. It only breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, entering the ecosystem and eventually our bodies.
Plastic and Our Wildlife
We’ve all seen harrowing images of what happens when animals and plastic meet. When eaten, animals can easily die from plastic wrapping around their insides, or from the chemicals released as the stomach tries to digest it. Each year, many animals and seabirds find themselves trapped in plastic and unable to escape or look after themselves properly. Our ocean wildlife fares no better, simply due to the sheer amount of plastic that they come across. With huge areas of the sea covered in waste due to the tides, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it’s no wonder that our animals are coming to harm. Plastic is mistaken for food on a constant basis, and when many of these creatures are already endangered, single-use plastic is only making matters worse. A recent report from the UN states that at least 267 marine species have been affected by plastic pollution, and this is only going to increase as the problem continues.
Plastic and Our Health
When animals eat something, humans always end up with it in their systems as well, which is why microplastics are a concern for human health as well. Up to 75% of deep-sea fish have some form of plastic in their stomachs, and that inevitably ends up in our bodies. Yet even if you don’t eat meat, plastic is still going to be a part of you. Synthetic clothing releases tiny plastic fibers when washed, and these tiny particles of plastic end up back into our water system. There hasn’t been much research done on the long-term impacts of this plastic, but unless we stop our reliance on single-use items, we’re sure to see health problems in the future.
Good Uses For Plastic
It has to be remembered that not all the reasons for using plastic are bad. It’s used extensively in the medical world for new joints and even prosthetic limbs. Without plastic, we wouldn’t have much of the innovation that we see around us today. Bicycle helmets use it, and plastic is used as insulation in many homes. The real problem with plastic is how easily it is discarded, which is why single-use plastic items are such a problem.
What Can be Done
After all of this doom and gloom, it raises one very important question. What can we do to stop the production of single-use plastic? The best way is still to follow the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle mantra. By doing this, we can each do our bit to show companies that throwing away plastic isn’t something that we want to do anymore.
The simplest way that you can show government and policy makers that the environment is something that you care about, and that you don’t want to see any more single-use plastic, is to reduce how much of it you buy. Switch to a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, stop buying all of your fruit and veg plastic wrapped, and buy items that have sustainability at their heart. As companies see the trend towards more intentional shopping, they’ll follow suit.
If you do buy a plastic item, one way that you can help is by reusing it as much as possible. A plastic bag isn’t meant to be reused, but it’s very easy to do so, and this lowers the carbon footprint surrounding its production. We all have plastic items, but by making sure we get the most out of them, we can stop them becoming so disposable.
As so much plastic has already been produced, recycling it instead of just creating more is a great way to reduce the overall amount of plastic in our world. We should either be buying items made from recycled plastic or making sure that anything else we buy can be recycled. If we do this, we can put a stop to single-use plastic, and other plastics that can’t be recycled at all.
The Caseco Promise
At Caseco, we use recycled plastic in our products whenever we can in order to find uses for the plastic that already exists on our planet. This means that we can make durable accessories with all the benefits that plastic brings, without the same environmental damage.
Not only this, but we have eliminated single use plastic from our workplace. All of our products are shipped in 100% recyclable paper and we use vegetable-based ink in all of our printing.
We care about the impact that manufacturing has on the world, which is why we have partners with charities 1% For The Planet and Plastic Oceans in order to do our bit to give back. When you support a company with environmental sustainability at its heart, you can be sure that you are doing your bit to rid the world of cheap, single-use plastic items.
If you are interested in learning more about Caseco’s Environmental Promise, you can take a look at our policies here.