The primary issue with plastic relates to its origin. The petrochemical sector (transformation of petroleum to plastic) represents 30% of the petroleum consumed today. The production of plastic therefore contributes to the depletion of a finite resource which we cannot replace and contributes to global warming by releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The second issue relates to the fate of plastic. It is estimated that one item of plastic waste in three ends up in the environment, i.e. the equivalent of a dustcart full of plastic dumped into the ocean every minute. These striking figures are chiefly due to our excessive plastic production and consumption, as well as poor waste management across the globe. The fact that a large proportion of plastics are single-use is one of the major contributors to this pollution as it increases waste production, thus increasing the risk of loss in the environment.
The consequences: a risk to fauna, flora and human health
Once in the environment, the resistance of plastic becomes its greatest flaw, as it can take up to several hundred or thousands of years to disintegrate completely. Once in the ocean, the plastic and toxins it contains are a danger for the marine flora and fauna which are at risk of injury upon contact, suffocation or intoxication by ingesting it. Animals are not able to digest or eliminate plastic which therefore stays in their stomach, taking the place of other foods and leaving them weak and undernourished. Based on observations, the problem concerns over 700 marine species including seals, turtles, whales, marine birds and fish. Drifting plastics also provide an oasis for viruses and bacteria which proliferate around waste. Consequently, they promote the dissemination and development of pathogenic organisms in the ocean.
Plastic also raises serious concerns in its microscopic form. The chemical components that it contains can diffuse into the environment and contaminate the soil and water reserves. At the same time, due to the effect of UV rays and waves, macro plastic in the ocean breaks up into microparticles that can be swallowed by marine animals, including zooplankton, at the base of the food chain. The toxins contained in these plastics accumulate in the tissue of living organisms and can affect their immune system and fertility. Through the food chain, these toxins are ingested in large amounts by top-level predators (such as human beings) who feed on the affected animals. Consequently, we are directly impacted by this pollution, whose consequences on human health we still know little about.