Updated: Sep 5, 2021
Plastics have infiltrated all areas of our lives - but how did we get here and what can we do to stem the flow of plastic pollution?
From our earliest ancestors, humans have been developing materials to assist with day-to-day living and survival. We have been using plastics for far longer than you might imagine - over 3,500 years ago the Olmecs of Mexico used naturally occurring plastics to create rubber balls to play games with.
In the mid-1800s, the development of new materials led to the invention of semi-synthetic plastics based on natural substances. Into the 1900s, the world was changed forever by the invention of fully synthetic plastics, combining two chemicals to create a new breed of products for consumers. The plastic boom had well and truly begun and, through the course of the 20th century, petroleum and chemical industry heavyweights partnered to produce plastics out of fossil fuels.
Fast forward to today - we now purchase food in plastic containers, we drink from plastic bottles, we type on plastic keyboards and we wear clothes containing plastic.
In some ways, plastics have had a hugely positive impact on society. Plastics have revolutionised some areas of medicine - the use of plastics in, for example, surgical gloves, syringes and insulin pens has helped prevent the spread of dangerous diseases and the durability of plastic has helped in the creation of medical safety devices and medical packaging. Plastics keep us safe in various modes of transport, save us energy in our homes and have been a major factor in our exploration of space. But, and it is a big but, the major issue with plastics is the single use 'throw away' culture rife in today's world.
Plastics are cheap and convenient and, as a result, have become the go-to option for countless businesses. This is creating an unbearable strain on our environment. Some of the primary issues include:
(1) Creation. New plastics are made from unsustainable fossil fuels. Even when plastic is recycled, it often requires the addition of new plastic to make a product.
(2) Life. Given its durability, plastic can take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to degrade. Think about that for a moment. If a plastic bottle of water you have purchased ends up in landfill, that plastic bottle will likely still be there centuries after you have left this Earth. That bottle will slowly degrade over that time leaking chemicals into the ground and harming the natural world. In nature, plastic which hasn't yet fully degraded causes the deaths of millions of wildlife ever year (remember the discarded fishing gear in Seaspiracy?).
(3) Degradation. You may well have heard of microplastics. As plastics begin to degrade they release microplastics. Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic which have a disastrous effect on the environment and wildlife. These particles can be ingested by animals - in marine life the particles block digestive tracts and reduce the urge to eat, altering growth and reproductive habits. In many cases, with stomachs stuffed with plastic, marine life starves and dies.
The above issues are affecting Earth's natural habitats including one of our primary life givers - the ocean. The ocean absorbs CO2, regulates our climate and is pivotal to our survival. By polluting the ocean with plastics and having such a negative impact on marine life we are causing harm to our primary life giver. If we damage the ocean eco-system beyond repair, it will no
longer look out for us in the way it has done for thousands of years.
The trend of plastic use is going the wrong way. We have pulled out a few stark facts to highlight this:
There are now 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic in our ocean.
Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations.
Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
The world produces 381 million tonnes in plastic waste yearly – this is set to double by 2034. 50% of this plastic is single use.
We are hopeful at Kitleys and we think it is possible for every person to make small decisions about their own lives to stem the flow of plastic pollution.
Something everyone can do is to educate yourself on the hidden impacts of actions you may take every day. I have a large collection of Patagonia and Cotopaxi fleeces (#DadWardrobe) - these companies are great and the fleeces are largely made from recycled polyester (plastic). However, I have learnt that when I wash the fleeces I am releasing thousands of microplastics from the polyester into the waterstream, which will eventually find its way to the ocean. As a result, I have started using filter bags to catch these microplastics during the washing cycle. This is one small example and there will be countless others that every single person can change in their day-to-day life to reduce plastic pollution.
We could source many of the components of the Kitleys Oat Milk Kit more cheaply if we chose to include products containing plastic but we are proud that the kit contains zero plastic and we are committed to ensuring that this is the case with all future product development.