Jump to Navigation

6 reasons to change the common thinking

Consider for a moment the possibility that plastic – not climate change or deforestation or even oil spills – is the most serious environmental threat facing mankind, and that it is both more immediate and far more actionable.

Are we wrong to give top priority to reducing our carbon footprint, and to focus so much effort, investment and regulatory fervor on fighting climate change? Why is so little political and governmental attention being paid to the research documented threats of plastic?

Climate change gets tremendous attention from many environmentalists, the media and from politicians around the world. Global summits, international treaties, sweeping regulatory changes and huge tax bills are pushed forward despite unresolved scientific controversies about the rate of climate change, about how much human activities contribute to any change, and to what extent and feasibility changes in human action can affect climate.

Might all this attention, effort and investment be focused to greater health and environmental benefit by fighting dangerous and unnecessary uses of plastics, and developing systems and technologies to clean up the world’s oceans and tidal zones?

An ever-growing body of research and epidemiological observation is documenting the serious health effects of our global addiction to disposable uses of plastic for packaging and storage of foods, beverages, and even topical products. The rise of plastics and the emergence and increase of many diseases – especially certain cancers, sexual function and reproductive problems, and neurological disorders like autism – are not just coincidental.

After initial use, we are faced with the virtually impossible task of controlling and containing millions of tons of disposed plastic waste. Our ongoing failure at this task visits horrible suffering and death on millions of animals (especially marine species), and threatens reproductive processes throughout the food chain and even in humans.

Here are 6 reasons to change the common thinking, and to redirect a substantial amount of our concerns and efforts from climate change to reducing non-durable uses of plastics, and cleaning up the world’s oceans:

  1. Plastics, on a worldwide basis, are measurably and observably killing and causing tremendous suffering to far more wildlife right now than any other environmental problem.
  2. Though not yet proved unequivocally, it is extremely likely that plastic breakdown byproducts (xenoestrogens) are reducing marine species’ reproduction rates throughout the food chain right now (and possibly terrestrial species as well).
  3. Plastic waste in the ocean breaks down into tiny suspended particles that act as sponges for the most dangerous water-borne toxins and carcinogens – PCBs, pesticides, pharmaceutical chemicals and more – which are in addition to the plastics’ own harmful compounds. Plastic particles bond these compounds into the global food chain affecting almost every living thing.
  4. Plastics are dramatically affecting human health all over the world right now in both initial usage and through the effects of environmental waste.
  5. Plastics’ threats and effects are directly actionable right now with predictable and measurable results. (The effects of human actions to address climate change are still theoretical and not predictable.)
  6. Manufacturing of disposable plastics has a giant carbon footprint that can be more feasibly and practically reduced than most other possible contributors to climate change (double benefit).

None of this is meant to imply that we should stop studying climate change and trying to reduce carbon emissions. Regional air quality issues alone justify the latter. But from an environmental triage perspective, plastics are where we should be focusing more attention and resources right now.

With very few exceptions, the use of non-durable and especially single-use plastic products is a totally unnecessary addiction to small conveniences and packaging appearance. This addiction is supported by a very profitable plastics industry with a strong, well organized political lobby.

It is a significant obstacle that, unlike climate change initiatives, there is no profit to be made, or political power to be gained in reducing the use of plastics.

Your voice, your consumer choices and your contributions to the cause can make a big difference right now. For some examples of what you can do, see the Take Action section.