Plastic is one of the greatest pollutants on Earth with thousands of plastic bags, bottles, and packaging being thrown out to harm both land and sea. But did you know? Plastic also plays a huge role in polluting the air around us. So how does plastic cause air pollution?
The most obvious (and well-known) way for plastic to cause air pollution is by burning. Plastic is generally made from fossil fuels, which themselves are major pollutants on the planet. However, in order to shape the petroleum into plastic, they also add certain chemicals such as foaming agents and colorants.
After serving its purpose, the non-recyclable plastic is often burned in landfills around the world, causing the emission of dioxides, mercury, and BCP’s. These fumes are extremely toxic not just for living beings but are also for the atmosphere around them. The fumes diffuse in the air, causing major breathing problems to anyone who is in the vicinity. Air polluted by incineration of plastic is known to cause a number of health problems, including asthma and cancer.
Extraction of petroleum
Oddly enough, plastic doesn’t even have to exist in order to cause air pollution. In fact, plastic starts causing pollution even when it’s being extracted as petroleum. Plastic is, as we all know, made from oil. The oil is extracted via giant rigs that drill continuously into the ground, producing an excessive amount of heat. The heat from the drill causes harmful toxins such as benzene, sulfides, and carbon monoxide to be released in huge amounts.
As with burning, the toxins don’t take much time to diffuse into the air, making the air itself toxic. Apart from reducing the air quality, these toxins also retain water vapor, causing a thick layer of smog to form around the area. For people with breathing conditions such as asthma, this smog is not only dangerous but potentially fatal.
Emission of Phthalates
Phthalates are a special chemical added to plastic bags to give them the flexibility needed for holding items. However, these chemicals are mixed but not chemically reacted with plastic, and are volatile even at normal temperature. So if you see a plastic bag just lying around in your living room, don’t think that it isn’t polluting the air around it; although small, it still is releasing tiny amounts of Phthalates in the air.
Although not quite harmful as the other two ways, plastic does cause some considerable damage by polluting the air with Phthalates. Phthalates are known for causing a number of reproductive issues such as lower sperm count and infertility among females. Apart from these, mild breathing problems and headaches have also been reported as a result of overexposure to Phthalates.
Wait, does plastic cause air pollution even when recycled? Surprisingly yes, which is a big worry for all of us. Plastic is an unnatural compound, but a few companies have created recyclable versions of plastic that claim to be more environmentally friendly, and they are… well, that is if they are recycled properly. Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t lie with the recyclable plastic, but the processes that are being followed at the recycling plants.
China has the reputation of recycling the most amount of plastic than anyone else on the planet. However, many plants are also notorious for not following proper guidelines when recycling plastic, which involves proper treatment of harmful gases, and the safety precautions such as equipment for the workers. Plants often look to cut costs during recycling, which means a lot of necessary processes remain ignored. Although the plastic itself is recycled to make something more useful which reduces land pollution, the air receives the damage by carrying these toxins out of the plants and into settlements, causing breathing problems for both humans and the wildlife.
How to minimize air pollution caused by plastic?
Well, first and foremost, STOP BUYING NON-RECYCLABLE PLASTIC! Non-recyclable plastic cannot be disposed of in an eco-friendly way, and the only way landfills can get rid of it is either to wait for the plastic to decompose over 300 or so years, or to incinerate it releasing harmful gases into the atmosphere (take a wild guess, which one do they choose?).
Garbage and shopping bags are usually made from non-recyclable plastic, and with millions being thrown away each day, you can imagine the damage being done. Instead of buying these, why not go for a more environment-safe alternative such as biodegradable trash bags? They don’t cost extra and are much greener than your average single-use garbage bag.
Being realistic, you wouldn’t expect the recycling plants to magically start following procedures for proper disposal and recycling of plastic, so you should start looking for alternatives for any type of plastic you use at home. Bioplastics have shown quite promising results when it comes to being eco-friendly, and with more companies investing in this revolutionary material, you’ll be able to find an environmentally-safe version of almost any plastic item you use at home.
Getting rid of plastic isn’t a practical solution; at least not just yet. However, with the development of newer, safer alternatives, as well as we playing a part ourselves to ensure proper disposal, we can surely hope for a plastic-free future.