Harmful effects of plastic waste disposal

Written by russell huebsch
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Harmful effects of plastic waste disposal
Typical plastic waste from a household can lead to harmful effects. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of woodley wonderworks)

Many of our favourite products and containers are made from plastic. However, when we throw these plastics away they can often build up and cause some harmful effects. Most negative effects associated with plastic waste come from chemicals that leach from the plastic into the environment. You can help reduce the dangers of plastic waste in a few easy steps.

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History

Scientists had been tinkering with plastic-like material based on cellulose compounds since the mid-1850s, reports The American Chemistry Council. New York chemist Leo Baekeland invented the first true plastic material in 1907, Bakelite, which people still use today. The effects of plastic waste became evident during the 1950s, according to PackagingToday. Some children playing with discarded plastic bags suffocated, requiring a public campaign to warn people of plastic bag danger.

Significance

The effects of plastic waste disposal can readily be seen in the environment. Plastics account for 12 per cent of all municipal waste, according to the EPA Fact Book on solid waste. Californians Against Waste reports that plastic waste constitutes 60 to 80 per cent of the waste in our waters, and 90 per cent of floating waste. Most of this marine plastic waste originates from land sources, such as landfills. Water current can spread this waste over a large area and many miles from its source.

Effects

Plastic wastes can break down and release toxins that harm the environment, animals and the general public, according to the International Plastics Task Force. Certain chemicals--such as bisphenol A--can cause some serious health concerns, according to an article on plastic bottles by Beth Daley of the Boston Globe. Even low doses of bisphenol may cause developmental problems in children.

Prevention/Solution

You can help reduce the effects of plastic waste disposal by recycling plastics and reducing their use, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Many communities have recycling services that pick up plastic waste from your door. When you shop for products, consider buying economy size products and open-air fruit. Businesses can help by finding ways to make plastic packaging more efficient. Milk producers use 30 per cent less plastic than they did 20 years ago.

Misconceptions

If you plan to reduce the effects of plastic waste by recycling, consider that just because a product has a "chasing arrow" symbol does not mean it can be recycled. The symbol simply contains a number relating to the type of plastic, according to Ecology Center. Not all recycled plastics go into new, recyclable products. Recycled plastic that goes into secondary products--such as plastic lumber and textiles--cannot themselves be recycled.

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