plastic bottle

All of the plastics we have created since the 1950s still exist, and they’re a plague on the environment

In this edition of TessDrive’s SustainabiliTalks video documentary series, vegan, climate advocate, and futurist Shiela R. Castillo discusses plastic waste—its prevailing misconceptions, alarming facts, and its alternatives.

Castillo defines plastic waste as the accumulation of disposable plastics that adversely affect the environment. A major contributing factor to the accumulation of such waste is the affordability, accessibility, and versatility of plastic. Plastic comes in numerous forms and uses—from bottles to bags to packaging. It’s cheap and so widely used, Castillo observes, that people develop the “disposable mentality”—they don’t have second thoughts about using and throwing away excessive amounts of plastic.

Another factor is that the human population is growing. This means that more people use more plastic, and out of that comes more plastic waste. Castillo says that, eventually, much of the plastic waste ends up in rivers and oceans, polluting marine habitats and fishing industries, injuring and killing multitudes of sea birds and aquatic animals.

Plastic is easy to produce, but very difficult to degrade or recycle. Castillo says that a plastic bottle, for instance, takes up to 400 years to decompose. That means all of the plastics created from the beginning of the mass production of plastics in the 1950s still exist.

Castillo points out that there are existing laws addressing the proper disposal of plastic waste, but enforcement has been lax. She adds that the countries producing most of the world’s plastics are in Asia and Africa. Ironically, these countries lack recycling facilities and systems needed to ensure plastic waste does not reach bodies of water.

Castillo reveals alarming facts about plastic: 2 million plastic bags are being used every minute; of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic manufactured worldwide since the 1950s, only 9% has been recycled; plastic waste kills 1.1 million sea birds and aquatic animals annually.

She explains that, as plastic waste degrades over time, they become “microplastics” –small bits of plastic that are more likely to be ingested, and then accumulate in the bodies and tissues of animals and humans.

Castillo also says that much of the plastic waste produced is, in fact, un-recyclable. Only 9% of all plastics have been recycled.

She analyzes that the scourge of plastic waste is as much a problem of our mindset and attitude as it is a supply one. Plastic producers need to find alternatives, as much as users need to change their “disposable mentality”.

Castillo proposes simple solutions every individual can do to minimize plastic waste pollution. From bringing your own utensils and drinking bottles to restaurants and reusable bags for shopping and groceries, to shunning the use of straws, every single act of every single individual adds up to one significant movement.

Castillo also adds one more “R” to the “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle” mantra, and that is “Refuse”–when plastic is offered to you as a bag or packaging at stores, just refuse and place  your items inside your reusable bag.

Castillo also proposes a profound lifestyle change—that of simplifying one’s life in order to make household items last longer. Instead of buying cheap plastic toys that break easily, she says, buy items that last longer. They may be more expensive, but in the long run, they’re well worth it for their durability and for the way they lessen the clutter of waste plastics.