Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution, accumulation in the environment of synthetic plastic products to the point where they create problems for wildlife and their habitats as well as for human populations. In 1907 the invention of Bakelite brought about a revolution in materials by introducing truly synthetic plastic resins into world commerce. By the end of the 20th century, however, plastics were found to be persistent polluters of many environmental niches, from Mount Everest to the bottom of the sea. Whether being mistaken for food by animals, flooding low-lying areas by clogging drainage systems, or simply causing significant aesthetic blight, plastics have attracted increasing attention as a large-scale pollutant.

Plastic is a polymeric material—that is, a material whose molecules are very large, often resembling long chains made up of a seemingly endless series of interconnected links. Natural polymers such as rubber and silk exist in abundance, but nature’s “plastics” have not been implicated in environmental pollution, because they do not persist in the environment. Today, however, the average consumer comes into daily contact with all kinds of plastic materials that have been developed specifically to defeat natural decay processes—materials derived mainly from petroleum that can be molded, cast, spun, or applied as a coating. Since synthetic plastics are largely no biodegradable, they tend to persist in natural environments. Moreover, many lightweight single-use plastic products and packaging materials, which account for approximately 50 percent of all plastics produced, are not deposited in containers for subsequent removal to landfills, recycling centers, or incinerators. Instead, they are improperly disposed of at or near the location where they end their usefulness to the consumer. Dropped on the ground, thrown out of a car window, heaped onto an already full rubbish bin, or inadvertently carried off by a gust of wind, they immediately begin to pollute the environment. Indeed, landscapes littered by plastic packaging have become common in many parts of the world. (Illegal dumping of plastic and overflowing of containment structures also play a role.) Studies from around the world have not shown any particular country or demographic group to be most responsible, though population centers generate the most litter. The causes and effects of plastic pollution are truly worldwide.

Related: Pollution Control Conferences | Global Warming Conferences | Climate Change Conferences | Environmental Conferences | Natural Hazards and Disaster Management

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