OPINION: If the world matters, do something about it

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OPINION: If the world matters, do something about it

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

By Taylor Sindle, Correspondent

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From a young age, people are taught about recycling and the ways that communities can come together to help save the planet. Posters hang up in schools, recycling bins are in the cafeteria and science classes will spend a day talking about the importance of minimizing plastic usage and disposing of plastics correctly. But somehow, despite people being educated on plastics, only 9 percent of plastics actually end up in recycling bins.

So, where do the other 91 percent of plastics end up? According to a 2017 National Geographic article, the main places are oceans and landfills, but they are also disposed of by incineration and biodegradation. The problem is that only one of these four solutions are safe for the environment.

Ocean dumping is the deliberate disposal of hazardous wastes at sea from vessels, aircraft, platforms or other human made structures. The Ocean Dumping Act was passed in 1988 and declared that it is the policy of the United States to regulate the dumping of all materials which can adversely affect human health, welfare or amenities, the marine environment, ecological systems or economic potentialities. However, ocean dumping still occurs today and the unregulated disposal of plastics and other materials into the ocean degrades marine and natural resources and poses human health risks. High-level radioactive wastes, medical wastes and industrial wastes are still being dumped into the ocean today.

According to data in a 2017 report from PBS, more than 52 percent of plastics end up in landfills. In landfills, waste is stored but not broken down. Through a series of clay, drains and pipes, the plastics eventually decompose. However, this decomposition can take up to 1,000 years. The billions of plastics being put into landfills each year will continue to accumulate quickly, while they decompose extremely slowly.

Incineration is the burning of plastic waste and perhaps the most deadly form of plastic disposal. When the plastic is burned, toxins and ash are released into the air that we breathe. These pollutants are sometimes responsible for asthma and cancer.

Other than recycling, biodegradation is the safest form of plastic disposal. Biodegradation is the decomposition of organic material by microorganisms and it occurs naturally. Organic matter is broken down by microorganisms like fungi and bacteria. Unfortunately this form of plastic disposal is not as popular as the damaging ones.

While many people will say they care about the environment, few are willing to save it. It is extremely important to take matters into our own hands. Now that you know how dangerous plastics can be when they end up in oceans, landfills and are burned into the air, you can take steps to decrease how much plastic you use and be more mindful of how you dispose of it.

One of the easiest solutions is to purchase a reusable water bottle. Though the more popular brands, like Swell Bottles, can be expensive, the price is nothing compared to the amount of money that you spend on plastic bottles. By purchasing one of these bottles, we can greatly reduce the amount of plastic that is harming our environment.

Another great option is using metal straws and utensils. Many students get iced coffee or salads at school every day, and with all of this comes plastic straws, plastic forks, plastic knives, plastic spoons – you get the point. It takes barely any effort to bring in your own metal straw and utensils, and this effort can greatly decrease the amount of plastic that is being disposed of in harmful ways.

And the most obvious solution is recycling. Before throwing out your water bottle in the garbage, look to the small blue bin next to it. Use it. It’s easy and it truly makes a difference.

It is important that we work together as a community to be aware of our plastic usage. Every action that we take matters and though it may seem like we are only making a small difference, we are actually having a great impact on the world. If we work together, we can save our planet one step at a time.


This editorial was written as a component of final projects for Dr. Denise D’Meo’s Chemistry class, April 2019.

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OPINION: If the world matters, do something about it