By Jack Hervela
Plastic has redefined our world.
Born from polymers, plastic took years to become what we know today. Around 1907 Leo Baekeland made the first synthetic plastic which opened the floodgates into a new industry. By 1930 mass production of plastic began, only increasing once World War II hit. After 1948, plastic became a household commodity used in virtually everything.
Over the years, scientists have synthesized various forms of these polymers, resulting in kitchenware, bottles, clothes and a wide array of goods all being made with some form of plastic.
Efficient and even inexpensive, plastic has rooted itself subconsciously into our lives.
It makes a working class, consumerist society built around speed more efficient as prepackaged everything can replace handmade anything. Production is relatively cheap as oil and gas produce plastic, meaning until we run out plastic will be made in abundance.
Sadly, this spells disaster for future generations. Everyday tons of plastic is dumped into oceans from landfills, killing off natural habitats and whole ecosystems in the process. Most of this waste will take thousands of years to decompose, with islands of plastic forming over areas of the Pacific Ocean and Maldive Islands.
In 2015, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis Marine Debris Working Group at the University of California Santa Barbara calculated around 4.8-12.7 million metric tons enter the oceans every year globally.
Considering 1960 only saw around 8 million tons produced worldwide, these numbers are morbid.
With almost too many repercussions to list, this waste cohabiting with the natural world is beginning the demise of a planet. Removing all of the preexisting plastic from oceans and other ecosystems is a far-fetched plan. There have been efforts to rid oceans of some waste, but the real change will have to happen with the actual consumption of plastic. We know recycling to be a great way to watch our carbon footprint, yet one country has rushed to the front lines in this battle on pollution in an innovative way: India.
Around 2011 this gigantic, usually overlooked country began to make roads out of plastic in the city of Jamshedpur. Reusing plastic, materials of plastic and other compounds they have been able to construct drivable roads while decreasing the amount of waste on our world.
Most plastic in the oceans comes from countries near water. India being right on the ocean means a significant impact could be made in coming years in part to this initiative.
Several other countries like Australia, Kenya and Nigeria have also begun using plastic to build roads. With a spread of this practice it hopefully will not be long before more of the world catches on.
Most, if not all, the plastic is from consumer products such as bottles, packaging and even parts of electronics. Building these roads contains no more than a three-step process and works just as normal asphalt would. It is yet to be determined how well this will hold up under heavily trafficked freeways and such.
Indian officials have stated these roads will withstand monsoon season, meaning they are durable and can withstand extreme weather. The government in India made it mandatory to use some form of plastic waste in all road building in 2015. This pushed states into a corner of thinking sustainably. As it seems, these roads are leading in the right direction.
Many man-made forces tear at our humanity everyday, yet we never stop to see our impact on the natural earth. Scientists estimate the Earth to be around 4.5 billion years old, yet say only about 1.75 billion are left for life on Earth. Theoretically speaking, this is not that long. At the rate we are going, it is possible to say this number can slowly drop. Considering our damages cannot be undone thus far, it is crucial to find better ways to sustain what is available.
For millenials, steps like these are critical, crucial. We are at a turning point in the world that cannot be ignored. Pioneers two, three, four generations before invented amazing advancements without realizing the full repercussions. Plastic is something that will not go away, but can become less of a problem.
These types of initiatives are big and take many minds to complete, yet this does not mean there are not steps we can take every day to be more conscious. It feels trivial to remind people of recycling, reusing, and reducing, but it sadly has to happen. Kent County hosts three recycling centers with one also hosting an education center. The public is encouraged to get involved and visit as often as they wish. To take away any excuses you could have about not recycling, this is the web address for Kent County Public Works recycling page, www.reimaginetrash.org.
While it may be cliché, this is our only Earth. We have boundless knowledge, yet we need to focus it on making the planet better for all who inhabit it. The quality of life for future generations will be impacted by how we live now depending on us just as much as we do now. It is time to do what is right and begin taking steps to a healthier, cleaner and more sustainable Earth.