Plastic has become a fundamental material to our society. Plastic is versatile and incredibly durable. So durable that plastic endures in our natural environment for much longer than its lifetime as a useful product. Despite recycling programs, plastic is filling up or landfills and washing up on our beaches.
Since 1975, global plastic production has increase 620%. In 2017, over 300 million metric tons of plastic were produced.
Zero Waste Washington is working in communities across the state to prevent plastic pollution, increase the value of our recycled plastics, and reduce plastic waste.
Where does plastic come from?
Plastic is a petroleum product made from oil and natural gas. Since 2010, $186 billion has been invested in new plastic production facilities due to the explosion of cheap natural gas and oil from fracking and our ever-growing demand for single-use plastics. Only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. Some plastic is not recycled because it is too contaminated or too low-value. The boom in US natural gas has made producing new plastic much cheaper than recycling the plastic we already have.
What is the impact to our wildlife?
Up to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic are washed into the ocean each year. Scientists are finding plastic in the stomachs of an estimated 90% of all seabirds. Plastics that are mismanaged by our waste companies or improperly disposed of are making their way to the sea, breaking in to smaller pieces, adsorbing toxic chemicals, and being ingested by animals.
Plastic bags are light, carrying easily in the wind out of trash cans and landfills and become litter that ends up in the ocean. Plastic bags are still a top 10 item found during beach clean ups around the world. They also cause problems in our recycling facilities and clog stormdrains in our cities.
What can we do?
The most effective way to reduce plastic pollution is to prevent single-use plastic use in the first place. On the individual level we can choose to refuse single use plastics. We can remember to bring our own reusable mug, straw, or grocery bag. Collectively, we can pass laws that discourage single-use plastic use like a reusable bag ordinance and Styrofoam food serviceware bans.