When Did We Become A Plastic Society?

When did we become a plastic society and what do we do about it? From our dependence on plastic bottles, to plastic wrap to plastic straws, cups and bags, that is the question in this great short film clip called ‘Open Your Eyes.’ This film comes from the Plastic Pollution Coalition and is narrated by Jeff Bridges.

How did we get here?
The world’s first synthetic plastic, called bakelite, was invented in New York in 1907 by Leo Baekeland, who is also credited with coining the term ‘plastics.’ Due to its relatively low cost, versatility, ease of manufacture and imperviousness to water, plastic quickly exploded in popularity as a material. It is now used in a seemingly endless variety of products ranging from paper clips to space ships, replacing traditional materials such as wood, leather, paper, glass and ceramics.

Despite the popularity of plastic, its dominance as a material has also come with environmental concerns and problems, particularly regarding its slow rate of decomposition due its very large molecules. In essence, plastic can’t be digested by the earth.

How big is the problem?
As ‘Open Your Eyes’ explains, each day in the US almost 88,000 tonnes of plastic are discarded. Most of this goes into landfills or ends up in the watercourses and ultimately the oceans. While there have been great strides to improve recycling facilities and programmes, it isn’t a sustainable long term solution as recycling really only serves to downcycle plastic. The plastic itself never really goes away.

The number one thing plastic is made out is oil. Every year, 17 million barrels of oil are used to create plastic water bottles. This is enough to fuel one million cars per year. Plastic pieces on the oceans’ surface now make up about 90% of marine trash, with about 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. These pieces of plastic now outnumber sealife by a ratio of about 6 to 1.

And this has an effect on human health. Plastic chemical such as bpa are absorbed by the human body. It is estimated that 93% or American have bpa plastic chemicals in their body, and this has numerous detrimental effects on health.

What can we do about it?
But as the film argues, by refusing disposable plastics, we can improve the health of the environment, sealife and humans.

Since 2009, the Plastic Pollution Coalition has been building an alliance to combat single-use disposable plastics. Members of this coalition include individuals, organizations, NGO’s, businesses, campuses and policy makers who share tool, resources and messaging to develop a broad based strategies to combat the problem. Approaches and strategies include advocating city bans on free plastic bags, with 200+ cities worldwide now partaking in similar strategies, and spreading the message in videos such as this that by saying ‘no’ to single use plastics in our daily lives, we can make significant strides in improving the health of our surroundings.

More information about the work of the Plastic Pollution Coalition can be found here.

All images taken from ‘Open Your Eyes