The environmental longevity of plastics has made it very challenging to manage them. Poor methods of disposal of these plastics have led to their accumulation in the environment. Plastic pollution has caused detrimental impacts on both terrestrial and marine environment.
1. Soil, Water, And Land Pollution.
Plastic bags are choking our environment. Microplastics in soil have degraded the soil quality leading to reduced soil fertility. Plastics in water sources have changed the overall hydrodynamics in water. On land, plastics have reduced the overall aesthetic value of our environment.
2. Death of Aquatic and Terrestrial Life.
Oceans and lakes usually act as a receiving body for all the plastics that come from the land. Studies have indicated that at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles are floating on or near the water surface. Plastic bags in the ocean can directly injure and kill marine life through entanglement, choking, and strangulation when these organisms mistake these plastics for food. Micro and nano plastics tend to also bio-accumulate in their tissues hindering their growth and other biochemical processes.
3. Emission of Greenhouse Gases Leading to Global Warming.
Fracking and other processes that are used to produce oil and gas used to manufacture plastics, release a lot of GHGs e.g., CO2 into the environment. These gases cause a warming effect (global warming) and increased temperatures which cause the melting of icebergs and flooding of the coastal zones. In the long term will lead to climate change.
Some enzymes in the soil break down plastic particles and release methane which is also a serious greenhouse gas.
4. Depletion of The Ozone Layer.
Incineration may seem like an energy recovery process when used to deal with plastic waste but this process has led to the emission of very key ozone-depleting substances.
The additives in plastics sometimes include oxides of Nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which degrade the Ozone when they are broken down by solar radiation.
5. Contamination of The Food Supply.
Many aquatic and terrestrial organisms ingest plastics through a variety of pathways. Goats and sheep can easily chew and swallow plastics; various studies have found plastic debris in their guts. Marine life uptake microplastics through ingestion and these plastic particles get into the human body when these organisms are fed on leading to adverse health effects.
Plastic fragments in the water used for irrigation can adsorb pathogens on their surfaces and when these pathogens get in contact with food, they contaminate the food that people eat.
6. Pollution of Groundwater.
Plastics can be buried in landfills as a way of disposing of them but is this method safe? Plastics buried deep in landfills can leach toxic chemicals into underground water therefore polluting it. Some of the plastic additives e.g. phthalates have been found in drinking water, studies have confirmed.
7. Depletion of Non-Renewable Energy Sources.
Plastics are a major consumer of fossil fuels. Plastics are made from oil which is a non-renewable resource. The enormous amount of plastics produced requires enormous energy which is excessively mined. Long-term mining of the resource will lead to depletion and destruction of the environment.
8. Spread of Invasive Species.
Studies conducted have shown that invasive species are easily transported by plastics. Toxic algal blooms and other invasive plant and animal species are believed to be spread by plastics in the water column. More studies are on-going to build knowledge on this discovery.
9. Reduction of Productivity in Soil, Water, And Land.
When microplastics alter the crucial processes in plants animals including important microorganisms, their role in the environment is hampered leading to reduced productivity in these ecosystems.
10. Reduction of The Aesthetic Value of The Environment.
Mining of coal, gas, and oil used to manufacture plastics has left behind sinkholes that are not only dangerous but also very unattractive. Plastic bags clog drainages in cities and towns making the places unsanitary and smelly. This leads to the deterioration of the natural beauty of the environment.Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay