The magnitude of the plastic crisis is enormous. Up to four hundred million tonnes of plastic are produced annually of which fifty percent is for single-use purposes. Of the total produced, it is estimated that up to one hundred tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste is generated every year. Mismanaged waste means that it is disposed of improperly as litter or in open landfills. In many landfills, plastic is improperly stored so that it leaches harmful chemicals or it can escape into the environment. Often plastic in landfills is burned, releasing toxic fumes. In addition, up to fourteen million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans every year. At that rate, the amount of plastic in the oceans will exceed the weight of fish by 2050. And plastic production is forecast to double by 2050, so the problems are going to become much worse. Imagine what Bermuda’s beaches will look like in 2050!

When invented, plastics were seen as the miracle material, because it was inexpensive to produce, lightweight and very durable. To that end plastics make our cars and airplanes lighter and so more fuel efficient; are used to make a myriad of durable goods; and they have wide applications in medical uses. Unfortunately though plastics have been used in ways that were not originally envisaged and that is especially true in single-use applications.

Single-use plastics are used by an end-user for only a matter of minutes before being discarded. Many of those applications revolve around food delivery, where there is mounting evidence of serious health implications for humans. It is estimated that the average person is now ingesting up to five grams of plastic a week. In addition, plastic is also in the air we breathe and a certain amount can be retained in the lung tissue potentially resulting in respiratory illness. Plastic and its chemical constituents are implicated in a wide and growing list of human diseases and conditions. The growing fertility crisis may be partially the result of the endocrine disrupting chemicals used in the manufacture of plastic.

The same chemicals that are affecting humans are also likely harming wildlife, potentially leading to their population declines. In addition, marine wildlife and seabirds are killed by plastic from physical ingestion or entanglement in fishing gear and other plastic waste. More concerning is that microplastics are being ingested by marine zooplankton. This is potentially interfering with the ocean carbon cycles, which may exacerbate climate change.

It must be recalled that plastic is manufactured from petroleum and natural gas. By 2050 it is estimated that plastic production may account for as much as twenty percent of petroleum production. In addition to plastic directly adding to greenhouse gas production, at each step along the way from extraction, refinement, to transport and use there are serious environmental and social consequences which result from using fossil fuels as a source material for plastic.

What can we do as individuals? We each have a part to play in influencing the businesses that are producing and using plastic. By switching to cleaner alternatives you can send a message. Consumers have the power to force the changes they wish to see. Please reduce your use of single-use plastics.