Joe Brabin (Y12) writes we are the only source of plastic. It doesn’t spontaneously appear out of thin air or form as a natural by-product of some other process.
It is made, purposefully, to make our lives easier: to carry our water, to protect our food from microbial invasion, and to keep us warm (“polyester” is as much a plastic as anything else). Nowadays, imagining a world without plastic is virtually impossible.
Despite all of its uses, plastic remains – and always will remain – an entirely unnatural substance. As such, its implications for the natural world, and thereby the world that we live in, are enormous.
Often being saturated compounds, plastics are highly unreactive. This means that they do not break down easily; they won’t react readily with water or substances in the air to make smaller, environmentally insignificant molecules. Instead, once formed, plastics can sit unchanged for enormous periods of time. One thousand years is about the average lifespan of a plastic product – but we generally only use them for a few days, or as a useable product for a few seconds. If we do not reuse the plastic that we generate, how will we ever maintain our current way of living?
Perhaps more important are the actual immediate implications that plastic has upon the environment. I would hope that the reader already has an understanding of these, as it has – deservedly – received an increasing amount of media coverage over the past few years. Of course, plastic is more than capable of entangling and subsequently killing a myriad of creatures, polluting environments with unnatural shapes and structures, and being ingested by animals that mistake its often bright colours and unusual textures with food. This can be observed most prevalently in our oceans. But why?
The simple answer is because they make up the majority of the planet. It’s clear that all of the dry land on Earth is above sea level, and so the wind and rain will eventually drag everything down into the sea. For most matter, this takes an enormous amount of time. For low-density, loose plastic, this won’t take very long at all. So when you drop a plasticbottle or sweet wrapper on the floor, it takes its very first steps on a long journey to the bottom of the seabed: across the land, potentially killing organisms as it travels, and then into a waterway to continue on its destructive course. “But it’s only one piece of plastic,” I can imagine the cynics saying, “it’s unlikely to do anything harmful at all!” This, of course, ignores the fact that your piece
of plastic is not the only piece, and that it has until the year 3 000 to wreak havoc.
I will not waste your time telling you tales of seabird chicks dying from starvation as their guts are filled with plastic, their parents having fed it to them in desperation as they struggle to find their natural prey in the sea that we have depleted of life. Nor will I tell you of the whales that struggle for years before eventually dying as a result of permanent entanglement in nylon rope, another form of the plastic menace. Alas, I will not waste your time elaborating on the stories of tiny plastic particles filtering up the food chain onto our own plates. I would sincerely hope that you are already fully conscious of these problems. The real, ultimate question is what you as a person can do about it.
More often than not, people are perfectly happy to sit back and wait for change to occur. After all, what change can a single person make? This is simply lazy and arrogant: of course you can make a difference, and it isn’t hard to, either!
We are all perfectly capable of changing our daily lives without any genuine negative effects towards our well-being, and so it is our moral obligation - as temporary custodians of this planet - to do so. Rather than treating plastic as a ‘quick-fix’ to a problem, see it as a valuable commodity. Use it for all of its worth before obtaining more; do not expend it when you have no real cause to do so. Really, reuse where possible, recycle when necessary, and send to landfill (i.e. bin it) as a last resort. But for goodness’ sake, don’t!
Upon our return to school in September, all students will be given a school reusable water bottle for use in school with a logo and name space. New water filling stations will be installed around school to ensure access to refills at break and lunchtime.