Worldwide use of plastic has increased exponentially over the last four decades and has created an environmental monster. Because of the low cost and convenience of plastic, manufacturers of everything from bottles to bags have made the switch. Many products made today are recyclable, but this is only effective if the consumer actually invests ten seconds into recycling plastic waste materials.
Unfortunately, only about twenty percent of the bottles and bags that we use end up in the recycling bin. The rest end up in landfills or floating in the ocean. In order to biodegrade, plastic needs sunlight and water. Even under ideal conditions, the average plastic bag can take up to twenty years to decompose in a landfill, and a plastic bottle can take up to four hundred years. Many landfills cover the garbage and seal it to prevent water from seeping in. This delays or even stops the process of biodegrading, so the plastic is left just taking up space in the landfill.
|Landfills are the most significant source of human-created methane in the world. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps twenty-three times more heat than carbon dioxide and when plastic ends up in a landfill, they are contributing to the increase of this toxic gas. The gas is produced when plastic is incinerated, as well. Because most plastics are petroleum based, they also release carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, during the biodegrading process.
Unfortunately, many plastics don’t even make it to the landfill but instead find their way into our waters. The plastics that end up in the ocean are lethal to animals, fish and birds. The fish and animals mistake it for food and eat it, or get stuck in it. The amount of trash thrown into our oceans is so large that there are actually floating trash “islands”, called gyres all over the world. The largest one is bigger in surface area than the state of Texas and has environmentalists flummoxed over how to clear it.