Problematic Plastics

What was once the world’s miracle creation is now our ocean’s biggest threat.

Without attached stigma or centralized opposition, it’s easy to dismiss our addiction to plastic — but in a single year, we will each use and lose approximately 185 pounds of it.

We cover our food with it. We carry our purchases in it. We even wrap our plastic products in plastic.

How It All Began

Civilized use of natural polymers can be dated back to1500 B.C., when the Olmecs in Mexico used rubber balls for sport.

It wasn’t until thousands of years later, in the mid-1800s, that American scientists began to manipulate natural rubbers to create durable products like tires.

The first synthetic plastic was created in 1907 by American chemist Leo Baekeland. Baekeland’s successful development of plastic from phenol acid paved the way for the creation of many other forms of synthetic plastic in the first half of the 20th century, including polyester and polyvinylchloride (PVC) in the 1930s and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in 1941.

How It Got So Bad

Cheap production and public fascination helped to immediately solidify plastic’s place in the global marketplace. By the middle of the 20th century, everything from jewelry to military vehicles was being manufactured in plastic.

The importance modern consumers place on convenience has made our dependence on plastic a societal norm. Even if we don’t ask for a plastic bag, we’re often handed one. If we sit down at a restaurant, we’re offered a straw (or two).

Today, nearly half of the globe’s plastic footprint is made up of single-use materials, such as straws, coffee lids and plastic bags.

Across the globe, only 5 percent of the plastics we produce is recovered for reuse. Close to half of our plastic trash is buried in landfills, and much of the rest has made its way into the natural environment. Its petroleum base makes the decay of plastic impossible.

The marine debris experts at 5 Gyres estimate there are 268,000 tons of plastic floating in our ocean.

A Way Forward

Living a plastic-free life isn’t convenient, but it’s possible. The easiest change we can make is to refuse single-use plastics like bags and straws when they are offered to us.

Want to up your commitment? Invest in reusable products! For every plastic bottle, bag and straw we use, an eco-friendly alternative exists. Even choosing to reuse the plastic that we do consume can help to lessen the presence of waste in our natural environment.

For the occasions in which reusable materials are impractical or hard to come by, there are a variety of compostable single-use products on the market.

To learn all the ways you can make our ocean a cleaner and healthier place, visit

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