top of page

Plastic Pollution: Main Causes and Environmental Impact

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

In recent years, there has been a lot of misinformation regarding climate change and other related topics. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where even big tech giants tend to censor certain facts about pollution and global warming that don’t fit a particular narrative. Now, make no mistake, climate change is real, and there definitely is a lot of manmade pollution on our planet. And based on specific unfavorable recycling statistics, it’s still vital that we advocate for a cleaner, greener planet. It is one of the most non-partisan issues out there, and if we are to work together on getting rid of pollution, we need to get our facts straight.

In this article, we will focus on plastic pollution in particular. You’ll learn what exactly causes plastic pollution and what kind of impact plastic waste has on the environment.

The Causes of Plastic Pollution

The Convenience of Plastic

It’s easy to demonize plastic when you only take into account the size of landfills today. In fact, some governments go as far as to ban the production and usage of single-use plastic products altogether. That can have devastating effects on the economy and, ironically enough, the planet itself.

However, the main reason you see so much plastic waste everywhere is the convenience plastic provides us. After all, plastic packaging is easy to make and, more importantly, mass-produce. And in the modern age, convenience and immediacy are extremely important.

Of course, plastic has other benefits, too. First off, it preserves products as good as glass, metal, and wood packaging does. Next, it prevents spillage, which, interestingly, reduces the creation of additional waste. Finally, it acts as an excellent means of protection against the elements. And considering how flexible (or how hard, depending on the type) plastic can be, it won’t smash or break as easily as glass or wood, for instance.

So, considering how often and how much people use plastic, it will naturally result in a huge amount of plastic waste, both on land and in our waters.

Increasing Urbanization

According to some conservative estimates, more than two-thirds of the world population will be living in urban areas by 2050. In other words, the majority of the world will live in cities, some of which contain tens of millions of people.

In a world with increased urbanization, people need products that can be mass-produced, are easily accessible, and are cheap to make. When it comes to packaging, nothing is as cheap and accessible as plastic. After all, a kilogram of raw materials for single-use plastic products costs literal pennies. Moreover, recycling old plastic is a difficult and costly process, at least when you compare it to making new plastic packaging.

Since manufacturers have no incentive to recycle, plus they save a lot of money by simply manufacturing plastic, the items you end up throwing away usually end up in a landfill. Worse yet, they can end up polluting a park, a river, or the main street of your town or city.

Slow Decomposition

One key aspect of any kind of plastic is durability. Simply put, your plastic water bottle, as soft and flimsy as it is, is made to last. Some of the softest single-use bottles, for example, will take at least 50 years to decompose. That’s half a century for a single bottle! But the terrifying fact is that hundreds of billions of these bottles get produced every single year. It would take centuries, if not millennia, for all of them to decompose naturally.

And bear in mind that 50 years is the lowest number for plastic packaging decomposition. The vast majority of bottles, bags, disposable diapers, and plastic fishing nets take anywhere between 100 and over 600 years to decompose naturally. In other words, not even a single percent of plastic items in landfills today will manage to decompose during your lifetime.

Reckless Disposal

Environmental awareness has been growing in popularity over the past half a century. Nowadays, you can find recycling stations and facilities in every corner of the globe. However, that still doesn’t stop people from recklessly disposing of their single-use

plastic items. Millions of people simply chuck the plastic bag on the side of the road or flick a candy wrapper into an empty field. Over time, this waste accumulates and starts to pose real dangers to the environment.

Marine Shipping and Fishing

The marine shipping and fishing industry contributes a lot to planetary water pollution. Sailors often throw their garbage directly into the ocean, and plastic fishnets that get ripped also end up floating about the ocean. Not only do these plastics pollute the water on a molecular level, but they present a danger to the wildlife. Fish, birds, and other ocean inhabitants can swallow the plastic items and die from health complications. But interestingly enough, the amount of pollution in the ocean has also helped certain bacteria evolve to the point where they can eat and dissolve plastic.

Improper waste disposal

Improper waste disposal presents a significant threat to the environment and human health. It encompasses practices such as dumping waste in landfills without proper treatment or recycling, resulting in the contamination of soil and water sources. To achieve the goal of zero waste to landfill, it is crucial to implement sustainable waste management techniques. This includes adopting recycling programs, promoting composting, and encouraging responsible consumption habits to minimize waste generation. By embracing these practices, we can mitigate the adverse effects of improper waste disposal and strive towards a cleaner and more environmentally-friendly future.

The Environmental Impact of Plastic Pollution

As stated above, animals are directly impacted by the amount of plastic waste out there. For instance, fish can consume water poisoned with chemicals found in plastic. Alternatively, they can swallow plastic itself, confusing it for food. In addition, many animals get trapped in floating or scattered plastic objects, which causes further injury and even death.

But the harmful chemicals that leak from these plastic items don’t just harm the animals. In fact, the quality of soil, ocean water, and land water also drop significantly in areas with huge levels of plastic pollution. And since we consume both the tainted water and the produce that comes from the contaminated soil, plastic waste directly impacts our own health and quality of life. Naturally, there’s also the economic impact of plastic pollution. Hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in cleaning and maintaining tourist areas with a lot of plastic waste. Furthermore, additional millions go to programs that educate the public about the hazards of polluting. Also, people don’t want to live surrounded by garbage, as is the case with huge cities, so they move into small rural areas where plastic pollution spreads. These moves have a negative economic impact on main urban centers, losing millions in annual revenue.

Plastic Pollution Facts: The Bottom Line

No matter how you slice it, plastic pollution is still a major problem. One of the best things you can do is inform yourself of the facts and try to reduce your own level of plastic waste through a few simple life changes.

1 comment

1 Comment

Juliana Rikmark
Juliana Rikmark
Sep 05, 2023

Oh it definitely has an impact. I like any plastic I buy to be biodegradable like stuff from

bottom of page