Although the seemingly dark and negative outcomes have been known to come from the production of plastic, there are positive impacts that its creation has had over the years. Since World War II, plastic was used in nylon parachutes or lightweight airplane parts which contributed to the success of the Allies. Plastic has transformed the lives of people by easing packaging, lightning every car and jumbo jet today (saving fuel—and pollution), and extending the life of fresh food using wraps. “In airbags, incubators, helmets, or simply by delivering clean drinking water to poor people…plastic saves lives daily”(Parker). In the early 1920s, plastic was made from the same materials that was giving the population abundant cheap energy- petroleum. Chemists then realized they could use this discovery to make everything out of plastic. Plastics became the cheaper and more convenient material for businesses and consumers. Before it’s invention, pottery and glass were they only thing that could be molded. These substances were used for storage but were heavy and brittle. Rubber was a natural substance that could be molded but was not very useful for storage because it eventually lost its ability to bounce back into shape and became sticky when heated. Plastic packaging became much preferred because of its lightweight, flexible, and secure properties. Clear plastic lets shoppers view the item they are purchasing, is easy to open, protects items from contamination, and is shatterproof. Not only did it change the packaging industry, it surprisingly helped save wildlife. In the middle of the 1800s, piano keys, billiard balls, combs, etc. were made of a scarce natural material known as elephant ivory. Manufacturing these items out of plastic saved animals such as elephants which were being killed for their ivory and becoming endangered. This blessing, however, was quickly taken advantage of and the cons of plastic started to exceed the pros.
The scale of the plastic pollution is growing in tons with the passing years. By 2015, the world was producing over 448 million tons of plastic. These plastics are releasing toxic chemicals, breaking down into microplastics and polluting ecosystems which is estimated to kill millions of marine animals each year. Stopping plastics from entering the ocean is a mainstream idea but it has to start with industry. I think every company that sells a product that is packaged, which is probably most companies, needs to consider environmentally friendly packaging. Most of the time, environmentally friendly products are not much different and allows people to still enjoy the convenience that packaging provides but way safer. It may cost more in the short term but over the long run we all we have to pay the price if we can’t figure out how to make the kind of changes that will reduce waste in our oceans and provide a way for plastic to degrade. People rely on the ocean for their life, especially workers such as fishermen. It is also a main source of recreation and tourism in the spring and summer months and in some countries all year long. If humans continue to dispose of this pollution in the wrong ways, there will not be an ocean to enjoy or a natural resource to use. Animals in marine ecosystems may die off or become consumed in toxic materials and the food chain may drastically change for the worse, affecting the health of the entire planet. Helping to clean the environment starts with contributions from everyone if any change is going to be made. Even something as simple as encouraging recycling more could end up creating a domino effect of positive transitions to cleaner products.
Essay by: Lexi Julia Gerlock
Wheatmore High School