In recent years, there has been an increase in awareness concerning the negative long-term effects of human activity on the surrounding environment. One of these areas of concern is the release of toxins from plastics, waste frequently discharged from factories, into nearby bodies of water. By continuing to develop more environmentally-conscious practices in industry, such as by moving to paper-based packaging, and by choosing to take small steps in our personal lives, we will be able to lessen the number of toxins released into the environment and prevent its harmful effects.

Several businesses have sought to minimize toxin release into the environment by choosing to recycle and repurpose old waste. Whether it be turning old cardboard boxes into things such as paper towel and toilet paper, recycling plastics to be used in credit cards and sunglasses, turning old rubber into playground equipment, turning milk cartons into benches, or even using material such as plastics bags and glass to build roads, repurposing old waste products has become a modern marvel in reducing the number of pollutants and chemical toxins released into nearby bodies of water. Though recycling and repurposing can be used effectively to help minimize the number of pollutants and toxins discharged into the environment, I believe that there is one, more preventative, a measure that can be taken by both businesses and consumers alike.

I believe that one small, concrete step that businesses can take is moving away from plastic packaging and towards paper-based packaging, a material that is known to be biodegradable and nonharmful to the environment. The plastic in packaging products such as bags and bubble wrap are known to break down into their microplastic components in the environment and harm several invertebrate species (Flint et al., 2012), organisms essential to the maintenance of a healthy, fully functional ecological food web. Among the several major families of chemicals leached by microplastics, two chemicals, namely, nonylphenols and bisphenol A, known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, have the potential to cause negative short and long-term effects on the reproduction and development of aquatic invertebrates such as Hydra (Pachura-Bouchet et al., 2006). Furthermore, bisphenol A is classified as a priority substance by the European Union, meaning that it poses significant health hazards to vertebrates as well as invertebrates (Oehlmann et al., 2008), humans included. For these reasons, I argue that businesses move away from plastic and, instead, towards paper-based packaging.

On the consumer end, there are several steps that can be taken to assist and encourage businesses in this task. In addition to refusing to buy plastic-based packaging material, consumers can choose to use compostable, reusable, and refillable packaging instead of single-use containers. Also, These are only some of the many, practical steps that can be taken by businesses and consumers to help lessen the number of pollutants and chemical toxins released into the environment and nearby bodies of water.

Though there is no doubt that pollutants and chemical toxins will continue to find their way into the environment, there are very simple, practical steps that can be taken by both businesses and consumers to help minimize the amount released. By choosing to switch over to paper-based packaging products, businesses and consumers can work together in keeping our lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans cleaner as well as ensure the success of the organisms that call them home.

Works Cited:

Flint, S., Markle, T., Thompson, S., & Wallace, E. (2012). Bisphenol A exposure, effects, and policy: A wildlife perspective. Journal of Environmental Management, 104, 19–34.

Oehlmann, J., Oetken, M., & Schulte-Oehlmann, U. (2008). A critical evaluation of the environmental risk assessment for plasticizers in the freshwater environment in Europe, with special emphasis on bisphenol A and endocrine disruption. Environmental Research, 108 (2), 140–149.

Pachura-Bouchet, S., Blaise, C., & Vasseur, P. (2006). Toxicity of nonylphenol on the cnidarian Hydra attenuata and environmental risk assessment. Environmental Toxicology, 21 (4), 388–394.

Essay by: Levi Miedema
Wheaton College (IL)