The inconvenience of single-use plastics

Plastic bag slowly decomposing and floating underwaterAn ASU Now story titled “The inconvenient consequences of a culture of convenience” was published today. In this article, ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes Associate Director of Biodiversity Valuation and Assessments Beth Polidoro and other center affiliated faculty shared insights on the health, pollution and biodiversity issues associated with single-use plastics. Plastics can take decades, centuries and even millennia to break down. As they break down, they can separate into tiny pieces called microplastics. These microplastics release harmful chemicals into the environment, harming species that ingest them — humans and animals alike. “It’s not just about saving the planet, it’s about reducing contamination in our own bodies,” explains Polidoro. “Environmental health is public health.” The article mentions recent research showing that over 80 percent of tap water samples in more than a dozen countries contained tiny traces of plastics. Similar results were also found in bottled water. Microplastics are not the only threat. Images of wildlife that have ingested or gotten tangled in plastics are becoming more recurrent in social media. Sea turtles, for example, often confuse jellyfish (their favorite meal) with plastic bags. The hazards created by convenient single-use plastics are far from convenient. Although recycling offers partial relief to this issue, not everyone in the world has access to these services and not all plastics can be recycled. The good news is that many people and organizations from around the world — including Arizona State University — have been mobilizing to address this crisis. The issue has gained media attention and new inventions are helping clean ocean waters from plastic pollution. Biodegradable disposable products are already in the market and many places have banned the use of plastic bags and straws. The article addresses various approaches taken to mitigate this issue and empowers readers to take personal actions to contribute to the solution. “We can all point fingers, but it’s really up to us to change our habits,” explains Polidoro. “We just have to make the effort instead of feeling complacent or powerless.” However, the issue is complex. A lot more needs to be done.