Carolan 2017 states the popular question What does sociology have to do with the environment? (p. 4) Most people dont realize that environmental problems are just as serve as social problems, but they most certainly are. Everything we do to our environment as individuals can later pop up in our social issues. I cannot think of a single environmental problem that does not touch, in some way, human society All environmental controversies are the result of social action, and none can be resolved without social action (Carolan, 2017, p.
5) The types of damage that we do to cause harm to our environment effect our oceans as well as animals, our streets, cities and even ourselves; resulting from high plastic usage and pollution we are causing. Our landfills are over flowing and our air is polluted as well. These type of issues in a wide spread of areas can stir up conflict in our communities. Some are left puzzled with what to do with the damage that has been done by our actions, while others are brainstorming new ideas on how to make our planet cleaner and less broken.
We must be cautious of what we are doing with our plastic products and waste since it can hurt our environment; meaning we must recycle properly, and companies should start (if they havent already) switching to greener alternatives of these plastic harming products. But if we want any type of change, these types of environmental issues cannot be changed or resolved without us as individuals to critique our actions.
Plastic is a word that we refer to as basically any artificial material we use. These major plastics can be identified as acrylic, nylon, and polyethylene. It is inevitable that we use plastic for a ton of items; consuming Three hundred million pounds of plastic per year (Freinkel, 2011, p.7). Even though we are using plastic for many different objects day to day, plastic is built to last. This means that it will not dissolve or break down resulting in these plastic as litter. And as litter is created and built up over periods of time, this is how it eventually pushes its way in places it does not belong. Congested areas like major cities are known for great amounts of liter in streets and sidewalks due to a large amount of people who pass through. Many leave garbage out in the open and do not throw it away correctly leaving a buildup of pollution to lay in eyes view. Humans could disappear from the earth tomorrow, but many of the plastics weve made will last for centuries (Freinkel, 2011, p.8). This fact is extremely eye opening and would give most people the chills if told how long plastic will go on for, and thinking back to everything we touch that is made out of plastic in just one day, it can make this statistic even more surreal and frightening.
Since we are using a huge number of plastic products and items on a daily basis, it has become a social norm. Our chairs we sit it in at school are plastic, and so are the pens we use to write with while sitting in this plastic chair. No one really thinks about using the product; we just do it because it is a normal everyday item to us. We are also using plastic bags at the grocery store after purchasing items. We just put our items in the bag without thinking. Many people keep them to re-use, while others just throw them away. And then there are the worst types of people; the ones who leave them outside to blow in the wind and make their way for animals to come across. We all say we care about the environment, but our behaviors say different. Structural changes go a long way toward changing behavior. And, many times these changes go further than attitudinal changes alone. (Carolan, 2017, p.11) Since many of our attitudes are not changing towards the horror of pollution, we are left with the environmental consequences we see day in and out since plastic never breaks down completely. And the sad part is we dont just have these bad attitudes with plastic bags from the grocery store; we do it with our other garbage such as plastic water bottles, cans, and more.
There is in fact, no part of the sea anywhere on earth today where plastic is not found (Wong). Many people are using plastic products, or any type of garbage for that matter, and disposing the products incorrectly by littering or not recycling; which then affects areas of our world that should not be touched by our trash. Have you ever walked on the beach and saw a crushed up soda can buried in the sand? And then walked a little farther and saw another one, and then another again? Or maybe even an empty water bottle or two? Imagine how our ocean floors look. Once plastic enters the sea, it stays there forever from the surface, where they accumulate as giant patches of garbage, down to as deep as 11km below sea level. (Wong). Since there is so much garbage and plastic covering all areas of the ocean, our marine life is eating, getting chocked and harmed by this pollution due to the fact that they are hungry and mistaking the trash for food. It is our jobs as humans to pick up after ourselves so danger and harm is not presented to our animals or even us in the long run. Its also not just our sea animals that are the ones affected living in our beaches; its our seabirds who are facing this danger as well. By 2050, 99% of seabirds are expected to have eaten plastic Once the food chain is disrupted; the balance of marine ecosystems is threatened (Wong). In a short 30 years we could be facing extreme food chain interruptions.
When food chains are interrupted due to pollution as an example, many can go hungry and become affected. Our sea animals and birds are not the only ones who will go hungry if hit heavy and affected from pollution; us as humans will too. Many people rely on seafood or fish as a main source of protein because they do not consume any other type of meat, or eat fish and other types of seafood in general. If our fish are eating plastic that are filled with chemicals or other types of garbage consumed, we are also consuming it too when we eat the seafood. When marine ecosystems are disrupted by plastic entanglement and ingestion, this affects fisheries for coastal communities and countries (Wong). One of our main food sources would be affected tremendously because fisheries would stop being able to provide a wholesome number of adequate fish to sell in our markets and restaurants.
We cannot fully blame all of our health issues on plastic products but, we are aware that there are many harsh chemicals added to plastic products that could very so be an issue to our health. Most plasticizers are endocrine disruptors that interfere with the endocrine, or hormone, system Rather than acting like foreign trespassers or poisons, these chemicals (including BPA) participate in the bodys hormone system (Liboiron). BPA is a harsh chemical added to many plastic products such as food containers, toiletries, and even feminine hygiene products. From a National Geographic article by Elizabeth Royte explains how we are unsure of the exact effects on humans lives from plastic products: BPA and its close relatives, for exampleappear to impair lab animals at levels some governments consider safe for humans Studying the impacts of marine micro plastics on human health is challenging because people cant be asked to eat plastics for experiments (Royte). I was once told years back not to drink from any plastic water bottle that sat in a warm car or a car that was sitting in the sun due to a result of increasing my chances of obtaining cancer and particularly breast cancer. We are not sure if this pollution of plastic effects our health lines in a drastic way, but many scientists are on the rise to researching if it is something that is harming our health for the worse. In the meantime knowing what is going into plastic, we should stop producing products that are sold or packaged in this material to save ourselves from any future effects that could be discovered down the road. If people stop buying products that are packages in this way, companies could potentially start running out of business or switching over to a much greener material to hold these food products in.
If plastic products have some context clues to harming our well beings, then why are companies still using plastic over other materials that are deemed to be safer? In product after product, market after market, plastics challenged traditional materials and won, taking the place of steel in cars, paper and glass in packaging and wood in furniture (Freinkel, 2011, p.6). Ultimately, the changes in technologies when dealing with many products were companies switched the way their items were made and replacing parts or the whole product with plastic. However, from the novel Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, Frienkel indisputably states, Plastic does offer advantages over natural materials, but doesnt fully account for its sudden ubiquity (Freinkel, 2011, p.6). In other words, even though throughout changes in technology of turning a great number of products into plastic was very popular and a great idea, we did not know that the end result would harm us once we are finished with these products. With the rise of the petrochemical industry, the behemoth that came into being in the 1920s and 30s when chemical companies innovating new polymers began to align with the petroleum companies that controlled essential ingredients for building these polymers (Freinkel, 2011, p.6). Plastic was promised to be cheap, making it a huge eye opener for companies to suddenly be addicted and drawn to. Even though it sounded like a great idea to switch, no one took into consideration, especially these companies, about its environmental impact this polymer will have on us at the end of the useful lives of these products. But many companies and businesses alike are making a stride to change the way they use and sell their products into greener and plastic free alternatives. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), Up to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be endocrine disruptors, but they are still produced and circulated in everyday consumer goods; and the two organizations, as well as many scientists, posit that disease risks associated with the chemicals are significantly underestimated(WHO/UNEP, 2013). So what are these companies waiting for?
Luckily enough, we are starting to see a difference in some plastic products. A huge example of this difference that has been going viral, popping up as informational ads, and used at many food industries is an alternative of a plastic straw. A single plastic straw can take up to 200 years to decompose in the last 25 years, 6,363,213 straws and stirrers were picked up during annual beach cleanup events (Koonin). So far seen, there have been two different big ideas for these new and greener straws. And even though straws are small assets of this huge plastic issue, a small step for change can make for an even bigger step for the future. Tiny acts can get people to start replacing other products and so on. One alternative to this plastic product is the paper straw. The paper straw is biodegradable and takes a much shorter time to decompose. Plastic straws can take hundreds of years to fully decompose, lasting for up to 200 years in a landfill; paper straws will decompose back into the earth within 2-6 weeks (Koonin). The time difference for decomposition when compared side by side is truly shocking and these facts are surely getting companies to think about the products they are using at their francizes and other businesses.
Paper straws are also relatively cheaper; another reason why many companies switch over to the paper side and realize they can buy the product in bulk for a couple cents each. Starbucks and McDonalds have been working on using these straws over plastic and a huge amount of people go to these popular chains. Within these companies switching over to paper, because they are so popular, it can really help this movement. Also here at Kutztown University, when you take food in to go, the box, straw and cup are all made by an eco-friendly company called Greenware which is embolded on the cup. The straw has the same plastic look and feel, but is 100% made from plants as put on the wrapper. Using greener materials at places like college campuses will also influence these better ways of living using these eco-friendly products. The other alternative to plastic straws are made out of metal. Metal straws are easily reusable; one of the key ways to reducing pollution. They are also made free of the toxic fumes and chemicals that are found in plastic.
While there are many products that substitute plastic in hopes to decrease the usage, there are also many resources of machines to help eliminate the amount of pollution found in our oceans and on our land. In an article called Rubbish Roads by Neil Clarke, he speaks upon an invention that turns plastic pollution products into road repairing material to fill pot holes, and pave roads down. Were taking the waste plastics that we have a problem with we call it the plastic epidemic and were putting that into an asphalt mix to replace part of the oil-based product in the road, says McCartney, MacReburs CEO. . .And the results are we get a much stronger, longer-lasting road (Clark). The company by MacRebur was founded two years ago in the UK, and has been in use being trialed by more than 20 councils across this country. In fact, work has already been undertaken in the warmer climates of Bahrain, Australia, and China (Clark).
While we are trying to go out of our way and thinking of greener solutions to try to change our environments conditions, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to eliminate a good amount of pollution that goes into this world. But us as the consumers are the only people who will make a change to any of this by having a direct and sincere attitude towards saving our planet. Our actions must be driven and we must all be on board to achieve the results we are looking for. From little acts of greener products, to machines that help get rid of a lot of our waste into something useful, step by step we are patching together a healthier living environment. We must do it for the animals in the sea that we have done much harm to, the animals that live on land and most importantly for ourselves. It is very scary to think about what our planet could be facing in the years to come, but having a ton of resources to help us guide a way for change can set us in the right direction. It is ultimately up to us on what we do with the valuable information available and if we utilize this advice or not.