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Plastic Sand? A reflection on our imposed plastic culture

Jun 24, 2024 - Blog by

The Desensitization of Plastic

How have we allowed ourselves to become so dependent on a material that would outlast us by centuries? Plastic now feels as common as sand, with micro and nano-plastics crossing all human barriers and reaching even the most remote areas of the world.  

Plastic has become an inescapable commodity. Plastic is everywhere, if one were to look around a room, we would most likely count more plastic items than fingers in our hands. The overwhelming presence of plastic in our world is no coincidence.    

In 1948, DuPont sponsored full-color ads for products made from plastic, creating a new consumer craze in America. DuPont’s slogan was “Better Things for Better Living… through Chemistry.”  In less than 50 years from the first developed synthetic plastic, we replaced paper bags, glass bottles, and fabrics for plastic made options. So began the plastic obsessed American culture.  

After World War II, brands encouraged a throwaway culture that is now drowning the world in trash. The ad campaigns funded by major petrochemical companies worked; America was hooked on plastic commodities. The United States contributes more plastic pollution  than any other nation, generating about 287 pounds of plastics per person a year. In 2016, the United States produced 42 million tons of plastic waste—almost twice as much as China, and more than the entire European Union combined. 

Corporate giants, including ….. with their immense influence and resources, played a significant role in popularizing the use of single-use plastics in America.

They convinced Americans to take advantage of the convenience of single use plastics and simply discard these plastics within moments of use. However, no matter how much we reuse these plastics, they will pervade our environment for centuries to come.

Why Big Oil Loves Plastic Impacts Everything 

While large plastic debris is a visible menace, microplastics present an equally insidious danger. These tiny particles, often invisible to the naked eye, pervade our waterways, soil, and air. Originating from the breakdown of larger plastic items and microbeads found in personal care products, microplastics infiltrate every aspect of our environment, posing a significant risk to human health and wildlife. 

Microplastics are in our oceans, our fish, and even our own bodies.   The rate of plastic contamination is so monumental that if we continue at our current rate, we will have more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.  Plastic has become as ubiquitous as sand in our modern world. 

Plastic Sucks  

What was once presented as a solution for hundreds of consumer needs, has become a threat to our environment and human health. 

A small study of six infants and 10 adults found that the infants had more microplastic particles in their feces than the adults did. Besides the placenta and breast milk, plastic feeding bottles and teething toys add to children’s microplastics exposure. 

Unfortunately, many of these plastics contain harmful chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which can leach into the environment and accumulate in living organisms. Coupled with a linear “take-make-dispose” model of consumption, this relentless cycle of production and waste exacerbates the problem, perpetuating our dependency on a material with finite environmental capacity. 

The Big Recycling Lie 

Although recycling has been proposed as a solution, only around 9% of plastic ever gets recycled. Consumers have been convinced that recycling is a sustainable option for single-use plastics. The resolution to this issue lies upstream: to combat plastic pollution, producers of plastics must bear the responsibility for the harm they inflict, such a strategy must be coupled with a global effort to reduce plastic production. 

Plastic now feels as common as sand, with micro and nano-plastics crossing all human barriers and reaching even the most remote areas of the world.  

Action Steps  

Plastic now feels as common as sand and the contamination it is linked to is not confined to a single corner of the world; it’s a global crisis. Therefore, systemic changes need to occur. We must fundamentally rethink our approach to plastic production, consumpt ion, waste management, and corporate accountability. Limiting the incessant production of plastics is the first step, and holding the major petrochemical companies accountable for their injury to the world is a necessary step toward a transition away from plastic.

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