The fight against plastic pollution

Boom: In the last 10 years, humans have made more plastic than in the entire previous 100 years.

Tourists have been banned from taking any plastic to the beautiful Italian island of Capri to prevent pollution. How harmful is plastic, and how can we use less of it?

  • How much plastic actually is there in the world?

    A lot. According to scientists, humans have produced around 8.3 billion tons of the stuff since 1950. The vast majority of it just ends up as waste — about 6.3 billion tons to be precise. That is the same weight as over 17,000 Empire State Buildings!

  • Does a lot of plastic rubbish get recycled?

    Afraid not. Only about 9% of the plastic that we produce ends up being recycled, and that figure could be about to drop. For years, Britain and the US have relied on China to help recycle their rubbish but, this year, the Chinese government banned all foreign imports of plastic waste. That leaves other countries to deal with rising piles of trash.

  • What happens to plastic that isn’t recycled?

    Most of it just gets buried in landfill sites. Unlike organic waste, like banana skins, plastic takes over 500 years to biodegrade.

    What causes more issues is the plastic which ends up in the sea. Up to 12.7 million tons of plastic rubbish is dumped into the ocean every year. The effect is devastating. Each year, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including turtles, dolphins and whales, die from ingesting plastic.

  • What can I do to help?

    At the end of last year, the United Nations agreed that the world must stop plastics from entering the ocean.

    There are also lots of things which ordinary people can do to help. The average person throws away the equivalent of 1,212 Coca Cola bottles every year. If everyone made an effort to drink from reusable bottles, that alone would save a lot of waste.

  • What else?

    If you eat a packed lunch, be sure to store your food in reusable containers rather than sandwich bags or cling film.

    If your parents drink coffee, you could ask them to take their own mug to a coffee shop instead of using a disposable cup.

    If you need a straw, choose a paper one over plastic.

    Taking reusable shopping bags to the supermarket will also help, and you can look out for fruit and vegetables which do not come in plastic packaging.

  • What if all the food comes in plastic packaging?

    Many major supermarkets in the UK are planning to reduce the amount of plastic packaging they use in their own products by 2025. However, they do not always have control over the packaging on items they sell on behalf of other brands.

    If you think a shop or a business is using too much plastic, you could follow the example of six-year-old Harrison Forsyth (see the third Become An Expert link), and write a letter asking them to stop. Remember: your voice is a powerful tool, and you can start changing the world at any age!

You Decide

  1. Do any of these changes sound easy or realistic?

Activities

  1. Look around the classroom. In two minutes, list all the items you can see that contain plastic. How many things did you spot? How many of these objects would not work or be useful without plastic? How many of them could easily be replaced with another material?

Word Watch

Imports
Items that a country receives from abroad.
Organic
Material that comes from something living, like plants.
Biodegrade
When a material naturally decays.
Ingesting
To eat or absorb something.
Reusable
Something that can be used more than once.
On behalf
When you say or do something for someone else.

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