The plastic grocery bag is as ubiquitous as it is inexpensive; nearly all of us have a cache of them in a junk drawer somewhere in our homes. And while some municipalities seek to ban them, plastic bags have become a symbol of capitalism and consumption, given out at stores and malls on every continent.
Nowaday, plastic bags are everywhere, Along with plastic water bottles, plastic food wrappers, plastic bottle caps, and plastic straws, plastic waste is creating an ocean “wave” that, researchers believe, will result in the mass of ocean plastics becoming greater than the mass of marine life in Earth’s oceans by 2050.
A report by the World Economic Forum in 2016 stated that worldwide plastic use has risen 20-fold in the past 50 years. At this rate, it is predicted to double again in the next 20 years. By 2050, we will use three times as much plastic as we used in 2014. Compounded with the fact that plastic can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills, it is possible the Earth and all of its life, including humans, will be drowning in plastic in the future.
Beyond our oceans, plastic waste is affecting life, ecosystems, and us. More than 180 species of animals have been documented to ingest plastic debris, according to the British Antarctic Survey, including birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals such as whales. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and Environment Agency Austria found microplastics — particles of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters — in stool samples from all of their human test subjects. In other words, plastic is likely inside all of us.
How did we get here, to a point at which plastic could choke the planet in a matter of centuries?