Throughout the entirety of my life, plastic has been integral. It is littered around my neighborhood, chokes the rivers in the parks and is wasted by the ton in supermarket aisles.
There seems to be no relief from the burden of plastic. Human consumption spans anywhere from 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year, and with added estimates of how much microplastic might be inhaled, that number is more than 74,000.
The inhalation of microplastics is proving to be the silent killer of our generation. Research confirms that microplastics entering the human body account for a multitude of diseases and disruptions to bodily systems, such as cancer, autoimmune conditions and neurodegenerative diseases, to cite a few.
Despite the persistent health crisis, the global plastic industry is booming, with a projected growth from the current value of $344 billion to $412 billion in 2024. There is a complete disregard for social and corporate accountability, and thus persistent efforts must be executed in resolving the extremity of the plastic crisis for the sake of our generation’s survival.
Companies force the use of plastic plates, cups, utensils and packaging, consequently leading to excess plastic waste; and it is this everyday plastic use that causes us to hardly stop and reflect on our waste. A plastic straw tossed away will take a century to decompose, and thus a neglected straw is representative of the idea of plastic: simple to use, but detrimental to public health.
The plastic bottle we quench our thirst from releases toxins such as BHA from heated plastic. The packaging on a box of sliced fruit carries a risk of an inhalation of microplastic particles and hundreds of toxic substances. The nourishing food we consume for energy is littered with plastic contaminates. The accumulation within our soil, air and aquatic food chains lends increased opportunities for plastic waste exposure. The air we breathe in is arid with microplastics and the effects of poor plastic waste management. The carcinogenic exposure ensues the impairment of the nervous system and endocrine system, and leads to reproductive and developmental issues and cancer. Microplastics that enter the human body through direct ingestion or inhalation may cause inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis and necrosis, among other health effects.
As a member of our plastic-crazed society, I have unknowingly consumed roughly 5 grams of plastic each week in the course of daily life, or about the weight of a credit card, according to Australian researchers. Roughly a half pound of plastic per year. We are evidently amongst a public health crisis, and at 16, I am at a high risk of plastic-induced illness.
The fossil fuel industry is directly responsible for 99 percent of plastic produced, and over 170 chemicals are used in the process. In order to decrease plastic waste, the fossil fuel industry needs to be heavily reformed with more transparency about plastic production and chemicals Moreover, research is imperative to evaluate the effect of thousands of toxins, microplastics and fibers within consumer goods. Legal framework should also be adopted in order to ensure that frontline communities are protected and that reform and research are increased.
When it comes down to it, holding the industry and legislators accountable is the only path towards change, and as youth, we need to educate and involve ourselves in efforts to revolutionize the industry. Lastly, social media is a useful tool and by reposting, liking and sharing information, you are educating hundreds and potentially thousands of people on the effects of the plastic crisis and who consumers must be holding accountable. If there continues to be an abhorrent neglect, there leaves little hope for the health of the future of our generation.
Victoria Lu is a junior at Forest Hills High School, where she is involved in debate and law-related activities and serves as field representative for the Our Climate group and event coordinator for the school’s Green Team.