3 Myths about plastic pollution that distort our reality

Plastic waste floating in the ocean. Photo: MichaelisScientists/Wikimedia Commons

The planet needs help, now. But therefore, we need to know the facts, and how to live with less plastic.

There has been a lot of focus on the plastic pollution and its negative impact on the environment lately, for good reason.

Plastic only found its way into the common households in the 1950s. Now we treat it as it would have always been there regarding on how much we rely on it.

1. Floating Island of trash (Great Pacific Garbage bag)

Some areas have a higher concentration on plastic debris but they are scattered all over the oceans, more like croutons floating throughout a soup bowl, rather than fat that accumulates on the surface.

Most people imagine plastic pollution as large island of trash floating on the ocean’s surface. Famous photographs of the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, twice the size of Texas, between California and Japan gripped people’s attention. In truth, there are garbage patches, but no islands of garbage in the oceans; and you can’t walk on them.

That is only the visible part. Most plastics are broken down into tiny pieces under 5 mm called microplastics. Those are not visible with the bare eye or satellite images. Those are of an equal concern as they are absorbed by marine life and accumulate through the food chain.

2. Ocean plastic pollution are just a trash problem

That might be the case for a lot of states that do not have an efficient waste management system or none at all like such as Thailand and Vietnam. But pplastic particles are now found inside animals and throughout the marine food chain, from mussels, to turtles and whales. Just this week dead pregnant whale has been found on Italy’s shores with 22 kg (49 pounds) of plastic in its stomach.

3. Plastic recycling can’t solve the problem alone

Plastic is designed to last for a very long time and not to decompose. Still, we produce and design items out of plastic that we just use once and then throw away. In January 2019 has voted for a ban of single-use plastics such as cutlery, stirrers and cotton buds which will take effect in 2021.

Recycling indeed helps to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the landfill. However, it is a myth to think that only buying recyclable plastics is the solution to the problem. Only a third of what we send to the recycling depot is recycled but every council has a different recycling system and the UK produces so much plastic that it exports its plastic waste to other countries.

To improve the situation, people have to stop using and relying on plastic in their everyday life.

How you can do that?

  • You can, for example, reduce your own plastic waste by using a plastic calculator to track your plastic usage.
  • Buy local and seasonal fruits from the market and bring your own bags and containers to put them in and carry them home.
  • Recycle your plastics (it helps after all!)
  • Support and follow the Plastic Pollution Bill which was presented to the Parliament in February to phase out all non-essential plastics in the UK. If you want to get involved you can sign The Friends of the Earth’s petition which asks Environment Secretary Michael Gove to take action.