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Planet Earth: Our Loving Home

The Growing Problem of Plastic Pollution, Part 1 of 2

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Since the mid-1900s, humans have relied on plastic for a wide variety of uses. It’s cheap, versatile, lightweight, highly resilient, and can be used in many ways in everyday life. However, plastic has one major drawback: once manufactured, it does not decompose for approximately 1,000 years.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) states that during the early 2000s, more plastic waste was generated in a single decade than in the previous 40 years combined. In recent decades, we’ve created a “plastic world” in which we live. Let’s look at some of the types of plastics and learn how they’re used.

Where does all this plastic end up? The UNEP states that, to date, more than seven billion tons of plastic waste have been generated, but less than 10% of it is recycled. The remaining 90% ends up as “garbage.”

According to a study conducted by the World Economic Forum 78 million tons of plastic packaging is produced annually on Earth, with a full 32% flowing into the oceans. The biggest problem is that plastic never goes away. It simply breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces called “microplastics.” These tiny plastic particles are now being ingested by virtually every species of animal-people in the ocean, from whales to tiny zooplankton, threatening their health as well as their very existence.

In a study published in March 2022 in the journal Environment International, scientists report, for the first time, traces of microplastics being present in the human bloodstream. The researchers examined blood samples from 22 healthy adults and discovered polymer particles in 17 of them. The scientists believe that the microplastics may have been inhaled or ingested and absorbed into the bloodstream.

And new research suggests that plastics can also contribute to the spread of disease. The study found that at least three disease-causing parasites that can infect both humans and animal-people can now travel around the globe, riding on plastic.
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