The Plastic Problem

The Plastic Problem

Hanna Leach

De-sensitized to Plastic

The concept that plastic doesn’t biodegrade for 500 years has been preached since the mid-1900s. Whether it’s on commercials, an activist’s Instagram, or from a politician’s mouth, we’ve all most likely heard it a thousand times. Even if we don’t mean to, it’s easy to become de-sensitized when exposed to excessive talk about climate solutions.

To help refocus the issue, try to imagine what it would be like if plastic was invented 500 years ago. That would mean the trash produced in 1523 would still be piled in landfills today. The waste of Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, and Galileo would all still be here. Looking back in this way might help us empathize with how the world will feel about our waste in 500 years.

It’s an odd concept that in the future, people will be fundamentally shaped by how we care for the world today. For example, even when plastic biodegrades 500 years from now, it doesn’t truly disappear. Instead, it continues on forever as microscopic pieces of microplastics. These tiny bits of shredded plastic enter our water systems and make their way into our bloodstreams, causing potentially fatal health issues when we are exposed to them over long periods of time.

One of our only options to prevent further contamination to our planet and us as humans is to reduce the amount of waste we generate. Unfortunately, on top of the trash in existing landfills, 292 million tons of municipal solid waste is produced annually in the United States alone. How on earth can we reverse the effects of that much trash?

There Is Hope

When tackling the environmental problems in our world, try not to get discouraged before you even get started! Eco-anxiety is a real problem affecting many adults these days, and while it can be overwhelming, one thing that can help it is to look at the “good” numbers. The scientific community is fantastic at pinpointing what humans need to work on, but let’s take a look at what we’ve done well.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that “landfilling of waste has decreased from 94% of the amount generated in 1960 to 50% of the amount generated in 2018.” In 1960, the U.S. was recycling 6% of our waste, as opposed to 32% now! We recycled 69 million tons of waste as a country in 2018, which is 1.16 pounds per person per day in the U.S. This is why every small step you make towards living sustainably counts, because those actions add up to great impacts.

Reducing Plastic Consumption

Moving forward, to prevent excessive plastic usage, try to be mindful when making new purchases. If you need to purchase something new that is normally packaged in plastic, consider your alternatives. There might be a similar item available that is made of more sustainable material. At Refillism we work to provide replacements for single-use plastic items that will be put to good use for years rather than a day. We’ve got everything from glass bottles to refill with shampoo and band-aids made from bamboo instead of plastic, to mesh produce bags for the market and aluminum tins to fill with toothpaste tablets.

If you do buy something made of plastic, as we all inevitably do, try to reuse the purchase until it wears out. For example, after using a plastic Ziplock bag, try to rinse and reuse it instead of throwing it away after one use. Sometimes, buying plastic truly is the better option. Glass bottles can be a hazard in the shower and it’s important to put safety first if this is a concern for you. In our store, we do sell plastic bottles for people to purchase, fill, and then hopefully refill.

In York, the city where our store is located, plastics numbered 1, 2, and 5 can be curbside recycled. Any other plastics you have from various items like groceries can be dropped off at CRDC global! CRDC takes any type of plastic or Styrofoam that’s been cleaned, and they grind it up into a concrete-like resin to use as building blocks for construction work. Programs like this divert plastic from landfills.

Despite knowing it’s impossible to achieve a “plastic-free” status in our everyday lives, with some conscious effort, small steps can continue to amend the 9.5 billion tons of plastic we’ve produced since its invention in the early 1900s.


National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes, and Recycling. United States Environmental Protection Agency.

R, Hannah and Max Roser. Plastic Pollution. Our World in Data.

REAP: Circularity in Action. CRDC Global.

About Our Residential Recycling Program. Penn Waste.

All About Plastic. National Geographic Kids.

H, William. How Long Does It Take for Plastics to Biodegrade? How Stuff Works.

P, Laura. Microplastics are in our bodies. How much do they harm us? National Geographic.



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