The Impact of Plastic Waste on Our Environment (and What You Can Do About It)

The Impact of Plastic Waste on Our Environment (and What You Can Do About It)

A recent article on the PBS website included some startling statistics about just how much plastic we are putting into our environment instead of taking it to the recycling center. There is currently close to 5 billion metric tons of plastic now in the ecosystem – around 60 percent of what is produced.

Plastics in the Environment Could Reach 10 Billion Metric Tons By 2050

It is estimated that the amount of plastic usage could double very soon, according to a Science Advances report. This could bring the amount of plastics in the environment close to 10 billion metric tons by the year 2050. That means all those water bottles, shampoo and conditioner containers, lotion bottles, food containers and plastic bags will be littering landfills and the landscape.

A recent estimate put the total amount of plastic that has been made since 1950 at around 8.3 billion metric tons. Most of the plastics that end up in the environment are both bought and discarded within the same year. This is due to the disposable nature of most plastic items as it is used in the food services industry.

However, plastics are also used in making appliances, electronic devices, machine components and construction materials. While these items have a longer lifespan, many of them end up in the well.

What happens to plastic? It comes down to these three options:

  • They end up decomposing for hundreds of years in a landfill
  • Plastics are burned during thermal destruction
  • They are taken to a recycling center to be repurposed

At this time, less than 10 percent of all plastic waste in the U.S. is recycled. A small percentage of plastic waste is addressed with thermal destruction (burning it), most of the plastics discarded end up in landfills or elsewhere in the environment.

The burning of plastic also isn’t much better for the environment than throwing it out. Thermal destruction releases toxic fumes and chemicals into the environment, reducing air quality and creating a public health risk.

Benefits of Plastic Must Be Balanced with Responsible Disposal

Once plastic is in the environment, it does not decay like natural materials eventually do. Most plastics are not biodegradable, and even biodegradable plastics degrade into microscopic bits called “microplastics,” which may or may not be harmful to the environment.

Plastics have brought benefits to modern society, including safe, convenient ways to store and transport food and other items. It is lightweight and ideal for the bodies of appliances, machinery, household and construction items. In many cases, they provide a more appealing alternative to metal and other potentially toxic substances.

However, the numbers indicate that it’s more important than ever to make use of the recycling center when deciding what to do with your used plastics.

Lakeshore Recycling Systems is your source for experienced, high quality recycling services in the Chicagoland area. With five recycling center locations, we’re your premier source for the eco-minded recycling of all your plastic items. We can also assist with recycling your paper, cardboard, aluminum and steel cans, glass bottles and more. Contact us to learn more about our recycling services.

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