Updated: Sep 26, 2020
Our throw it away, buy a new one, culture is killing our planet and could conceivable leave earth uninhabitable for future generations. Humans have become accustomed to buying cheap, usually plastic, products that only last a few days, weeks, or months before needing to be replaced. Unfortunately the plastic that makes these products so durable also makes them difficult to break down. As such, something as simple as a plastic straw may float in the ocean for hundreds of years before breaking down completely. Harder materials may persist for thousands of years before being broken down.
As a species we can no longer ignore this problem because it is literally right in front of us. The last several developing nations I have visited have been covered with plastic trash. In some areas the plastic obliterates the ground for miles. The ocean now contains vast plastic garbage patches extending hundreds of miles across the open ocean. In 2018 alone, 380 million tones of plastic were produced. Our appetite for this material seems unquenchable and demand continues to grow. Every minute, the equivalent of 1 garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into the ocean. By 2050, the plastic in our oceans will likely outweigh the fish.
Plastic trash is not just something we see everywhere, it is now literally inside of us. 95% of United States residents have detectable BPA (bisphenol A, a component of some plastics) in their urine. In fact, BPA is also found in drinking water worldwide. Moreover, BPA is just one of many potentially harmful plastic components that should not be inside living creatures or the human body.
The health effects of being one with plastic chemicals are largely unknown. Plastic waste is ubiquitous and present among so many other environmental contaminants. This will make it nearly impossible to study the effects of plastic waste on living humans due to the absence of a control group (plastic free) and all the existing confounders (all the other pollutants). Two things we do know about BPA is that it can lead to thyroid problems like hypothyroidism and hormonal problems like low sperm count and problems with gonadal (private part) development. I am seeing a lot of thyroid issues and infertility in my medical practice these days. On a population scale, such problems are also on the rise. This seems like more than just a coincidence.
It is time for our society to undergo a massive restructuring with regard to waste production, waste management, as well as manufacturing.
From a manufacturing standpoint, we need to start making products that last. Humans need to get use to paying 3 times more for something and getting 10 times more life out of it. All major industries need to consider how they can cut out waste production. This will not only be better for the environment, but it will also drive down cost. Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are designing fully reusable rockets. This makes launches exponentially more affordable and practical. It is why humans could become multi-planetary in my lifetime. It is time for the medical industry to follow this example. The medical waste produced annually in the United States alone is astronomical. As the cost of medical equipment continues to rise, the most viable option is to start sterilizing and reusing equipment. Healthcare needs to stop acting like it can produce whatever waste it wants because it is “helping people” and start being a leader in the reduce, reuse, and recycle space. Such leaders are desperately needed in every industry and every household.
It is time for humans to ban the use of non-recyclable plastics. We simply cannot stockpile billions of tons of material that will take 1,000 years to disappear. I do not want future generations to be living among garbage. Furthermore, it is time for every developed nation to implement a robust recycling plan, with the goal being to eventually recycle 100% of all waste produced. This is possible and doing so will create entire new industries.
While our society must change, action starts with each and every one of us. It is time to stop using plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and any other one-time use items. Our behavior accounts for the vast majority of plastic waste. It is so much easier to avoid using something then to recycle it. Think about what you are doing every time you are about to use plastic or another disposable material. Decide if you actually need the plastic or if it is just a habit. For instance do you really need to drink out of a plastic straw? Do you really need to put your apples in a plastic bag at the grocery store? Do you really need all new stuff every few years?
Lets start acting like future generations (your grandkids!) matter. Lets make priority number one, the implementation of sustainable behaviors and practices meant to preserve our beautiful blue planet. It is indescribably selfish of us to see the awful things we are doing to the earth and not take action. We are literally hoarding trash on a massive scale. When I walk into the house of a hoarder, the mental health problems become apparent, even before talking to them. To me, the destruction of our planet is akin to the destruction of ones own home. From a mental health standpoint, we are not just sick as individuals, but also on a population scale. Only a profoundly ill species would knowingly destroy its home and precipitate a massive biological extinction. Only a species that has lost its way would not prioritize future generations.