When you’re at Safeway buying your groceries, the cashier drops the usual question: “Do you need a plastic bag?” Many of us reflexively answer with “Yes, please.” On campus, purchasing bubble tea in between lectures, we are often confused as to which coloured trash receptacle the cup goes into. I’ve named only a couple of instances that evoke a feeble voice within my head — do we really need all this plastic in our lives?
My attention was further drawn to our reckless disposal of plastic after watching a viral video (God bless the Internet!) of a plastic fork jammed inside a turtle’s nostril. Afterwards, I laid in bed questioning the world. We treat the environment, particularly oceans, as spheres of waste disposal for two (nerdy-termed) reasons: the free-rider problem and our anthropocentric view of domination towards nature.
When we don’t pay for the costs of polluting the water with our garbage while we’re on a cruise, we become the ‘free-riders’ causing the problem. When we believe that nature is here to serve us instrumentally, we dominate as we please. The end results are irreparable consequences on aquatic life and degradation of water resources.
The truth is that plastic waste has become a specimen of the hydrosphere all over the world; it now seems to be on top of the food chain, killing most things that live on the ocean surface. A study at UBC found 93 percent of birds called fulmars had stomachs stuffed with plastic. Plastic obviously isn’t tasty, but if I were a bird and saw a transparent head floating nearby, I’d think it was lunchtime as well!
Polyethylene has become our best friend. Its accessibility and reliability is a trait that fits my real-life best friend as well. The difference is that my real best friend is biodegradable, but plastic isn’t. All plastic produced since its invention in 1907 still exists even in the most minute forms on Earth today.
I didn’t conduct multiple experiments to accumulate this understanding over what polymers do. I simply wondered why the turtle or the fulmars’ fates were due to something that could have been avoided.
Plastics are used by various billion-dollar companies to make products for our purposes — for us humans. If we consciously advocated for a gradual ban of plastics in favour of more environmentally friendly and biodegradable alternatives — if we cared about the consequences of needless disposables — we would start to find fewer pieces of plastic in both land and aquatic animals.
A little throwback reminds us that plastic bottles started being recycled in 1977. My hope for the future is that we finally see the last plastic-anything be properly treated and recycled, before King Polyethylene takes over the Earth kingdom.