how does reducing plastic help the environment

How Does Reducing Plastic Help the Environment? An Eye-Opening Truth

Last Updated on August 16, 2023 by Annie Baldwin

Plastic waste is a growing crisis threatening ecosystems worldwide.

Reducing our plastic consumption is the most effective way to curb this mounting issue.

Read on to learn how cutting down on plastic protects wildlife, ecosystems, and human health.

How Does Reducing Plastic Help the Environment?

How Does Reducing Plastic Help the Environment?
The fact that more and more governments are proposing policies to lessen plastics’ negative environmental effects is evidence that they have become a major problem for the planet. Therefore, reducing the use of plastics necessitates both a change in habits and a shift in perspective. Image Credit: NEEF

Plastic pollution permeates every corner of the globe, from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains.

Over 8 million tons of plastic trash enter our oceans each year.

Without intervention, the volume of plastic litter is projected to triple by 2040.

While recycling is touted as the solution, less than 10% of discarded plastic gets recycled.

Reducing plastic at the source is the only viable way to manage this unfolding catastrophe.

Reducing plastic consumption prevents immense harm to wildlife and marine ecosystems.

It diminishes health risks from plastic chemical exposures.

Most importantly, it relieves pressures on the environment from plastic manufacturing and waste mismanagement.

Refusing and reducing plastic in all forms is the single most constructive action individuals and industries can take against the plastic pollution crisis.

Key Points

  • Plastic debris ensnarls and poisons over 260 species worldwide, from sea turtles to albatrosses.
  • Exposure to plastic additives like BPA and phthalates poses major health hazards such as infertility, cancers, and heart disease.
  • Plastic production requires fossil fuels and emits greenhouse gases accelerating climate change.
  • Bioplastics made from plants provide negligible benefits over conventional plastics.
  • Recycling alone cannot fix the plastic waste crisis, reducing virgin plastic usage is critical.

How Does Plastic Harm Wildlife and Marine Life?

Wildlife across the world suffers from plastic pollution swarming their habitats.

Over 260 species have fallen victim to the entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris.

Seabirds often mistake floating plastic for food, filling their stomachs with indigestible waste.

Sea turtles and whales frequently get ensnared in drifting plastic bags and fishing gear.

Even albatrosses living thousands of miles from civilization carry stomachs full of our plastic waste.

Reducing plastic saves countless species from untimely deaths.

Simply refusing single-use plastic items limits the amount of trash polluting natural ecosystems.

Avoiding the prolific plastic waste distracting and poisoning wildlife is an ethical obligation to preserve biodiversity.

What Are the Health Risks of Plastic Pollution?

Humans also face significant health threats from plastic pollution.

Microplastics have infiltrated our food chain, ending up in fish, salt, honey, and even tap water.

These minuscule particles also float through the air, which we then breathe into our lungs.

Exposure to plastic additives disrupts hormonal function, harms reproductive health, and is linked to cancers, kidney disease, and autoimmune disorders.

Phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are plasticizers added to plastics to increase durability.

They easily leach out of containers into foods, posing risks like asthma and obesity in children.

Limiting plastic usage reduces health hazards from additives, plastic-based chemicals, and microplastic accumulation in our bodies.

Consuming less plastic-wrapped products directly decreases contact with harmful plasticizing chemicals.

How Does Plastic Production Damage the Environment?

Plastic production requires substantial energy and resources while generating massive amounts of waste and emissions.

The manufacturing process relies heavily on fossil fuels as the raw material source.

Global plastic generation uses 8% of the world’s oil production, equal to the oil consumption of the aviation sector.

Refining and cracking crude oil to produce the ethylene necessary for plastic synthesization releases toxic emissions into surrounding communities.

These facilities expose marginalized groups to severe health risks from carcinogenic and hormonal disrupting compounds.

In addition, plastic production contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions fueling climate change.

The projected doubling of plastic output by 2050 will add over 850 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Ridding our lives of unnecessary plastics directly lowers the environmental toll of plastic manufacturing.

How Do Bioplastics Compare With Conventional Plastics?

A man holding bioplastic and conventional plastic plates and cutlery
Raw ingredients derived from petroleum are used to make traditional plastic, while plastics made from renewable biomass sources are known as bioplastics. Image Credit: PlantSwitch

Bioplastics are plastics made partially or fully from renewable biomass like cornstarch or sugarcane instead of fossil fuels.

While bioplastics seem like an eco-friendly alternative, most provide little advantage.

Most bioplastics do not biodegrade any faster than conventional plastics.

Even polylactic acid (PLA) made from corn breaks down extremely slowly in natural environments.

Bioplastic production also drives deforestation from the clearing of carbon-sequestering forests to planting crops.

Their reliance on monoculture crops like corn and sugarcane contributes to biodiversity loss, soil depletion, and freshwater scarcity.

Overall, bioplastics provide minimal benefits over conventional plastics.

Reducing overall plastic usage is more constructive than swapping standard plastics for “greener” alternatives.

Can Recycling Solve the Plastics Crisis?

Despite ongoing campaigns promoting recycling, less than 10% of discarded plastic gets recycled.

A significant portion of our curbside recycling is too contaminated or low-quality to reprocess.

Wishful recycling, or tossing non-recyclables into recycling bins, is a major issue diminishing the value of recyclable materials.

Even items labeled as recyclable can end up in landfills due to widespread confusion over recycling policies.

The only pragmatic solution is to refuse single-use plastic items and packaging whenever possible.

Putting the brakes on plastic overproduction and overconsumption is the sole pathway to effectively managing plastic waste.

How Can Consumers Reduce Their Plastic Footprint?

Many simple lifestyle changes allow consumers to curtail their plastic usage.

Carrying reusable bottles, bags, and utensils eliminates the need for disposable plastic versions.

Seeking out products with minimal, recyclable, or compostable packaging makes a significant difference.

Opting for fresh, plastic-free produce minimizes exposure to plastic packaging and chemicals.

Avoiding fast fashion and cheap synthetic textiles cuts back on plastic pollution from microfiber shedding.

Choosing personal care items free of microplastics like exfoliating beads sidesteps this common source of microplastic pollution.

Preventing plastic waste from reaching the environment is the most direct way to protect ecosystems.

How Do Businesses Contribute to the Solution?

Much responsibility lies with corporations to reduce the environmental impacts of plastic.

Transitioning from hard-to-recycle plastics to sustainable materials and refillable containers is an excellent starting point.

Stepping up recycling initiatives and reducing excessive plastic packaging also move the needle in the right direction.

However, the greatest influence businesses can have is eliminating single-use plastics from operations altogether.

Fast food chains like McDonald’s are finally phasing out plastic straws and cutlery in response to public pressure.

With enough consumer demand, corporations will reform their reliance on throwaway plastics trashing the planet.

What Policies Help Curb the Growth of Plastic Waste?

Legislative action is essential in containing the proliferation of plastic waste.

Implementing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws engages manufacturers in handling the waste from their products.

Banning specific problematic plastics like polystyrene takeout containers alleviates their burden on the environment.

Taxing virgin plastic production makes repurposed and recycled materials more cost-competitive.

Deposit return schemes on plastic bottles boost collection rates for recycling.

Governments worldwide have a responsibility to pass forward-thinking policies to avoid drowning in a global plastic tide.

Reducing our cumulative plastic footprint is the surest route to overcoming the plastic pollution epidemic.

Through mindful consumption, pressure on corporations, and progressive legislation, we can stem the rising tide of plastic threatening the planet.

Eliminating throwaway plastic protects the intricate web of life dependent on a healthy environment.

How Does Plastic Pollution Affect Us?

Plastic pollution poses numerous threats to human health across the entire lifecycle of plastics.

The production of plastic resins and polymers releases harmful VOCs like ethylene oxide and benzene into surrounding communities, leading to increased cancer risks.

Workers in these facilities also face hazardous exposures.

Furthermore, plastic additives like bisphenols and phthalates leach out of food and beverage containers into the edibles and drinks they contain.

These endocrine-disrupting chemicals then enter our bodies, with demonstrated links to adverse effects on reproductive health, brain development, and increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Finally, the proliferation of microplastics in our food chain presents emerging concerns.

Microplastic particles make their way into tap water, salt, seafood, honey, and even the air we breathe.

Research into the toxicity of microplastic exposures is still ongoing, but initial studies show harm to cell membranes and DNA damage.

What Environment Is Most Affected By Plastic Pollution?

The oceans bear the brunt of plastic waste pollution.

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic trash enter the oceans annually.

Plastic debris has invaded all marine environments from shorelines, estuaries, coral reefs, the sea surface, and the ocean floor.

The most visible impacts occur in gyres where circulating currents concentrate floating plastic trash into giant garbage patches.

The marine life inhabiting oceans and waterways is most affected by this deluge of plastic waste.

Over 700 marine species from sea turtles to whales and seabirds suffer from ingestion, entanglement, and habitat disruption from ocean plastic pollution.

Coastal areas and beaches also amass plastic litter to the detriment of the animals and plants living there.

How Does Recycling Help The Environment?

Recycling provides numerous environmental benefits over waste disposal in landfills or incinerators.

It conserves natural resources by reducing the extraction and processing of virgin materials.

Recycling also saves substantial amounts of energy and water relative to manufacturing products from raw materials.

Furthermore, it reduces pollution in the form of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and water pollution.

Recycling also minimizes the need for landfill space.

However, the limitations of recycling highlight the necessity of reducing plastic waste at the source.

Contamination and wishful recycling render much of the material unfit to be recycled. Improperly sorted plastics can disrupt entire recycling streams.

The recycled material market is vulnerable to fluctuating commodity prices.

Overall, recycling alone cannot remedy the plastic waste crisis, but must be coupled with reductions in usage.

The Bottom Line: How Does Reducing Plastic Help the Environment?

Reducing our cumulative plastic footprint is the surest route to overcoming the plastic pollution epidemic.

Through mindful consumption, pressure on corporations, and progressive legislation, we can stem the rising tide of plastic threatening the planet.

Eliminating throwaway plastic protects the intricate web of life dependent on a healthy environment.


How does plastic harm the oceans and marine life?

Plastic debris litter beaches and floats in huge garbage patches across every ocean. Seabirds, fish, sea turtles, and marine mammals mistake bits of plastic for food or get entangled in debris, causing suffocation, starvation, and drowning. Plastic also releases harmful chemicals and accumulates up the food chain.

Do microplastics in the ocean impact human health?

Yes, microplastic particles move up the food chain into fish and shellfish, which humans then consume. Laboratory studies show microplastics cause cell death and allergic reactions in mammals. More research is urgently needed to determine the human health effects.

How much plastic gets recycled?

Despite ongoing campaigns promoting plastic recycling, less than 10% of discarded plastic gets recycled globally. Contamination, wishful recycling, and widespread confusion over recycling policies are largely to blame.

How does reducing plastic save energy?

Plastic production from fossil fuels is incredibly energy-intensive, accounting for 4% of global oil consumption. Cutting back on unnecessary plastics directly lowers energy demands and combats climate change.

What policies help reduce plastic waste?

Governments worldwide must implement bold policies like bottle deposits, plastic bag bans, extended producer responsibility laws, and taxes on virgin plastic to avoid plastic waste continuing to proliferate out of control.

Here at GreenChiCafe, we are passionate about the environment and our natural world. Please check out our website for more content on living sustainably.

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