Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

David Suzuki: Plastic Pollution Is Choking the Planet

Popular
Shaahina Ali

People who deny that humans are wreaking havoc on the planet's life-support systems astound me. When confronted with the obvious damage we're doing to the biosphere—from climate change to water and air pollution to swirling plastic patches in the oceans—some dismiss the reality or employ logical fallacies to discredit the messengers.


It's one thing to argue over solutions, but to reject the need for them is suicidal. And to claim people can't talk about fossil fuels and climate change because they use fossil fuel–derived products, such as plastic keyboards, is nonsensical.

There's no denying that oil, coal and gas are tremendously useful. They hold super-concentrated energy from the sun and are used to make a variety of products, from medicines to lubricants to plastics. The problems aren't the resources but our profligate use of them. Using them more wisely is a start. In many cases, we also have alternatives.

Burning oil, coal and gas to propel inefficient automobiles and generate electricity illustrates the problem. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 14 to 30 percent of a gasoline-powered car's fuel is used to propel the vehicle. That energy is mostly moving a tonne of car, which often holds one 80-kilogram person. That's a lot of fuel and energy to transport one or two people.

Looked at this way, even electric or hybrid personal vehicles aren't terribly efficient, but they at least pollute less than gas-powered vehicles—and the EPA notes 74 to 94 percent of an electric car's energy goes to moving the vehicle and its passengers. Energy-efficient or electric vehicles are moving in the right direction, but public transit and active transport such as cycling and walking are better alternatives.

Fossil fuel power plants are also inefficient. Only about a third of the power generated reaches consumers. More is lost through wasteful household or business use. A lot of energy is also required to extract, process and transport fuels to power plants. Because of the many methods of generating and supplying electricity with renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, it's tough to put exact numbers on efficiency, but far less power is wasted. Because the energy sources are inexhaustible and don't produce emissions, waste isn't as big a concern as with fossil fuels—although it's still important.

Most plastics are also made from oil—which presents another set of problems. As with fuels, people started making plastics from oil because it was inexpensive, plentiful and easy for corporations to exploit and sell. Our consume-and-profit economic system meant automakers once designed cars not to be efficient but to burn more fuel than necessary. Likewise, manufacturers create far more plastic products than necessary. Many items don't serve much purpose beyond making money. Sometimes the packaging is worth more than the contents!

It's so bad that researchers from Australia's University of Tasmania and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recently found 18 tonnes of plastic garbage—239 items per square meter—scattered across a small South Pacific island 5,000 kilometers from the nearest human occupation. Scientists have also found massive, swirling patches of plastic in the North and South Pacific oceans, each holding around 400,000 plastic particles per square kilometer. University of Tasmania researcher Jennifer Lavers said plastic in the oceans could be as great a threat as climate change. "You put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or plastic in the oceans and both will stick around," she told New Scientist.

As with fossil fuels, the first step to addressing the problem is to substantially reduce plastics usage. There are also alternatives. To begin, we should recycle everything already produced. Plastics can also be made from renewable resources, such as hemp or any fast-growing plant that contains cellulose. In fact, plastics were once commonly made from animal products such as horn and tusks, but when those became expensive, people started using plants, switching to oil products when that became more profitable.

We can and must cut down on fossil fuels and plastics. We also have alternatives, and ways to prevent plastics from ending up in the oceans. Those who look away and pretend we don't have a problem are only slowing solutions and accelerating our self-destruction.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less