In this day and age, we as humans have come to develop as a comfortable and convenient race. Ever since we have initiated the stages of the technological era, the amount of comfortability and convenience that we have added to our day to day lives have been growing in sequence with our inventions. We started as primitive creatures with a high capacity of development. Regrettably this ability has brought upon us a cursing that we will have to soon start taking serious action on. With our industrial, technological, and social evolution, have also come the troubles that we have been implementing into our beloved planet. This everlasting practice that we have made out of damaging our own home, seems to only be growing by the minute.
Convenience, like I mentioned before, fits a perfect description to the global society we have grown to form. In the United States alone, we see convenience everywhere; we even call our stores “convenience stores.” A few decades ago, when this was all starting, it painted an amazing picture to the public. Supermarkets full of plastic-wrapped food that will last you weeks, plastic containers that will hold your produce healthy for as long as you want to keep them in the fridge, sponges made out of synthetic materials that make them be so durable that you can almost pass them down to the next generation; plastic absolutely everywhere. Looking at it from an uninformed perspective, it is amazing. We love it so much because it lasts a long time, it holds anything and everything, it comes in all shapes and forms, it is light weight and easy to use, and most of all: it is highly convenient. Sadly, all the reasons that make us love it so much, are also a huge proof as to why we should start hating it. Plastic’s longevity is the biggest threat that it poses to nature. All the chemicals and materials that are mixed into it are the ones that allow it to not only last thousands of years, but also to essentially never biodegrade. Only because an item made out of plastic is no longer visible to the human eye, it does not mean that it biodegraded. Paradoxically, it actually means something really bad: that it has degraded into microplastics.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that were once a big marketed item used (and made) by us. For some, it might be unbelievable to think that such a small thing could do so much harm, but that is where the big problem arises. Little to none information exists on the health risks that these microplastics present to the human being. However, we do know that there are most definitely risks, as these tiny particles are natural gatherers of harmful things such as chemicals and heavy metals (Nithin Coca, May 27th of 2016). The fact that we have yet to learn what the harm is behind these tiny plastics should be a red flag for us as a global society to start taking action. Whether we like it or not, they are everywhere. It has been shown in studies that they are not only in our oceans, but also in the air we breathe in. It is a scary, urgent situation that we have brought upon ourselves, which in effect, means we should take full responsibility for it.
Lately, the news and social media have made it a more reachable topic for younger people to have access to, which has surprisingly brought positive feedback to the matter. Every day more juveniles decide to take a standpoint on the issue and verbalize their concerns, particularly since they are the ones that will have to deal with the long-term consequences. There have been school strikes, political debates, social media rants, documentaries, broadcastings, movies, series, and so on; that have popularized the idea of caring for our planet. While this is certainly a good thing, it is also not enough. Raising awareness on an important topic is the first step, but propaganda can only do so much. It is of no use to have a large part of our population vouching for a cleaner, plastic-free earth, if our leaders are the other part that does not care for the cause. This is a worldwide concern, so globally is how it should be handled. There are numbers from a couple of years ago that estimate that more than 300 million metric tons of plastic are man made every year. (Mark Tutton, April 22nd 2018). This outstanding number is not only excessively high, but it is also outdated, and continues to grow year after year. The bigger dispute today is not the mass production that already exists in all of our countries, but the fact that we, as a ‘united planet’, are not doing much to diminish it. We concentrate so much on the biggest countries and we love to point fingers, but not much action is actually taken.
Costa Rica is a great example to take into consideration. The small country of Central America is one of the most sustainable places on Earth. A few years back, they took it upon themselves to start making serious changes. Their individual efforts are now visible and highly rewarded by their beautiful and protected nature that allows them to have a richer economy thanks to tourism. This small nation uses more than 90% of renewable energy, and have proudly vowed to become the first carbon neutral country by 2020. This is real, tangible change. Costa Ricans are proud people, they love and cherish their country, and all it took from them is to realize that if they wanted their home to be clean and last them for many more years, drastic modifications needed to be implemented into their laws. Just like Costa Rica, there are many other countries that have started to incorporate sustainable practices and regulations. In the United States, there are states that have begun this process by banning styrofoam, plastic bags, straws, and so on. More countries are joining on the movement of tree planting, which will assist by cleaning the air we breath and filtering the water we drink (both of which are proven to be polluted by microplastics). The point is, there are millions of ways that we could start the process of cleaning our planet, and just like many places have started, we have to as well.
It is widely known that everything is easier said than done, and that goes well in this case. All these things that are mentioned above sound great, but are also very difficult to put into work. In order for these changes to start, there needs to be political involvement. This happens to be one of the biggest issues we have here in the United States: many of our politicians simply do not believe in global warming. This, in my opinion, is the most considerable threat we have regarding our climate crisis. Science continues to show all the proof needed in order to take this problem seriously. The thing is, most people have no power over mass producing companies, or laws and regulations. With this being said, there is one thing we can do about this: to vote. In 2016, the nonvoters essentially handed the presidency to Donald Trump. The percentage of people that did not vote was so high that it resulted on his winning. Today, we see a president that is apathetic towards climate change, and a lot of powerful people that follow along his same ideals. This lack of consolidation between the people in power, and those that want to see change, is quite afflictive on our environmental footprint. If our leaders do not believe in the problem of microplastics, the funding necessary to appraise these issues will be close to impossible to find. If the experts are not even close to having a wide knowledge of the actual whereabouts of these harming particles (Laura Parker, June 6th 2019), the lack of funding and government support is only going to add to the problem even more problems. As redundant as it sound, today we are matter-of-factly facing an array of issues, problems and crisis all in once, and we need to pick the leaders that care enough about it so that we can began the process of solution.
The United States mass producing and consumerist culture is plainly circumstantial. For decades, our country has been filled with plastic covered counters, fast food advertisements, and an all-too-comfortable way of living accomplished by big commercialist companies. Only a small percentage of our population is at fault, but we all have to pay the price. Nowadays, buying a family of five a McDonalds meal is much cheaper than going to the supermarket and buying a few vegetables and fresh chicken. Moreover, our workforce is so capitalized that most people get 15 to 30 minutes only for lunch, which often obliges them to also pick a fast food option. This is a very big predicament. We have Americans that feed themselves fake food because they either cannot afford fresh food, or they simply do not have the time to prep their meals before going to work. These are things that we also have to bear in mind when it comes to microplastics. It might seem as if it has nothing to do with it, but fast food chains are filled with plastic cups, straws, utensils and bags. In very rare cases they have separated trash cans where you can recycle some of these, and even if they do, these plastics will generally end up un-recycled, being that recycling is actually very expensive, and that more than 80% of the things we put in our recycling bins in reality never get a second chance. Notwithstanding, there are ways of beginning to take the matter into our own hands (as individuals). Lately, the trend zero waste has taken a bigger course. Many people have gradually adopted zero waste lifestyles and have been influencing others to do so as well. Living a zero waste life for some might sound too bohemian, or simply impossible. Instead, it is not. If we could do it a few decades ago, we can do it today. All it takes is small changes into our daily habits. Little things such as taking our own bags to the grocery stores, buying in local farmer markets, carrying with us reusable bottles and utensils, and/or starting a compost in our backyard, or with the community; are means to create small changes.
As a society, we are taught to believe that small is insignificant, but I say that it is quite the opposite. In fact, small steps are what lead us to greater accomplishments, and it is in the little things where we frequently find the big solutions. Microplastics are an enormous part of our global environmental crisis; these tiny fragments have a big impact on our future, and it is up to us to change that. We have to take the immediate action that is more accessible to us: participate in polls, adopt the most zero-waste lifestyle you can manage, educate the people close to you, support small businesses, be constant on the matter because it is not going anywhere. Most importantly: care. If we decide not to care for our planet, it is only us the ones that will suffer the consequences.
Parker, Laura. “Tiny Plastic Pieces Are Spread throughout the Deep Sea.” National Geographic , 6 June 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/06/microplastics-spread-throughout-deep-sea-monterey-canyon/.
Tutton, Mark. “It’s not just the oceans: Microplastic pollution is all around us.” CNN, 22 April 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/22/health/microplastics-land-and-air-pollution-intl/index.html
Coca, Nithin. “Microplastics: A Global Problem That Needs A Global Solution.” Planet Experts, 27 May 2016, http://www.planetexperts.com/microplastics-global-problem-needs-global-solution/
Parker, Laura. “A whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled” National Geographic, 20 December 2018, nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/