The word ‘plastic’ is a general term used to describe a group of materials. They can also be called polymers, because they are made of lots of repeating units that form a long chain. Most plastics are synthetic and are made from materials that come from petroleum. Some plastics can be made from natural materials.
WHAT IS PLASTIC USED FOR?
Almost anything can be made from plastic and they are very cheap to make. This makes them very useful, so plastic has been used to make a big range of products. They range from food and drinks packaging to parts of cars and aeroplanes and from medical applications to helping space exploration. Now, 448 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year!
WHAT IS THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF PLASTIC?
- Plastic pollution: currently, there is 6.9 billion tonnes of plastic waste on our planet! Plastics do not break down easily so once we have made them they are essentially here forever. Most plastic waste ends up rivers and oceans. This is harmful to a lot of species that live in the oceans and rivers and it is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year and some birds too.
- Microplastic: plastic can break down into microplastic, which are tiny pieces of plastic. Microplastics can contaminate water supplies and some marine species, which makes them toxic to consume.
- Harmful gases: some people burn plastic which releases a lot of harmful gases that are bad for the environment and people.
- Making plastic: most plastics are made from petroleum. Petroleum needs to be extracted from the ground before it can be used. Extracting petroleum can cause environmental disasters. For example, there have been hundreds of oil spills in the Niger delta in Nigeria.
HOW WE CAN HELP!
People have started to focus on the problems caused by plastics. Many countries, especially African countries, are making changes to tackle the problem. Kenya, Rwanda and Morocco have banned single-use plastic bags.
We can also all do things to help.
- We can help by using less plastic. This is the best way to help! Challenge yourself to use as little plastic as possible!
- We can try to buy things without plastic containers and wrappers. Some delicious local sweets are cooked and can be bought without plastic packaging.
- We can ask governments to invest more in minimizing plastic. Some governments and organisations run clean-up operations.