Plastic pollution is a huge problem with tons of plastic on the earth including in the oceans. Unlike many other things that we throw away that decompose quickly, plastics take much longer to break down. There are currently many initiatives and programs in place to educate people about plastic and the dangers that it poses for the environment.
When items are thrown away, they sit in a landfill and begin to break down or decompose as they are eaten by miniscule organisms such as fungi or bacteria. Items such as cotton, wood, and other materials can be eaten by these tiny organisms, as they are able to break down atoms as they eat the object. Plastic is a bit different because the atoms that make up plastic are linked in a much more complicated manner. Bacteria and fungi are unable to break down these more complicated atoms. There are other processes that can break down plastics but they take a very long time, possibly even centuries. One process that can break down plastic is photodegradation, which requires sunlight instead of fungi or bacteria. With photodegredation, UV rays are able to break the molecular chains that make plastic. As time goes on, the process of photodegredation can turn one large piece of plastic into many little pieces.
Plastic that is buried in the landfill will not necessarily get much sunlight and will likely take many, many years to break down. Unfortunately pollution has led to plastic winding up in the world's oceans and other bodies of water. Plastic in the ocean is exposed to lots of sunlight, causing it to degrade faster than plastic in a landfill. As the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, it can release toxic chemicals that can contaminate water, and in turn negatively affect the health of sea life. Animals can also ingest these tiny pieces of plastic which can be fatal.
While the plastic products that are currently available can take hundreds of years to break down there are possible solutions to the problem of plastic pollution. There are several types of biodegradable plastic that have been developed. Often, these products are made from corn, and are able to decompose much faster than traditional types of plastic. People are becoming more aware of just how long it takes plastic to break down and how harmful it can be to the environment. There is hope that further research will help to identify ways to break down plastic, and keep it from harming the environment.
Facts About Plastic Pollution
- More plastic has been produced in the last ten years that during the entire last century.
- Approximately half of all plastic used is disposable, meaning it is used once and then thrown in the garbage.
- Each year, people throw away enough plastic to circle the entire earth four times.
- Each year, the average American citizen will throw away more than 180 pounds of plastic trash.
- More than thirty billion plastic bottles are thrown away each year just in America.
- Billions of pounds of plastic have entered the ocean, accounting for approximately forty percent of ocean surfaces around the world.
Additional Information on Plastic Decomposition:
- Breaking Down Plastics: New Standard Specification
- Plastic Breaks Down in Ocean After All, and Fast
- Science Questions: How Does Plastic Decompose?
- The Plastics Breakdown
- Why Doesn't Plastic Biodegrade?
- What Happens to All of the Plastic in Landfills?
- The Environmental Impact of Plastics Pollution
- The Environmental Toll of Plastics
- Here's How Much Plastic Enters the Ocean Each Year
- The Problems With Plastic Garbage & Pollution
- Photodegradation of Plastics Explanation