The problem with plastic...

A globe in a plastic bag.

Sadly plastic pollution can now be found in every beach and many freshwater rivers and lakes across the world and every day approximately 8 MILLION pieces of plastic pollution end up in the oceans. So what is it and why is it a problem?

What is plastic?

Plastic has only existed for the last 60-70 years but it has had a dramatic impact on our daily lives. It has transformed the way we dress, cook, shop, design our products, even our homes, and workplaces. And of course one of it's greatest advantages is that much of it is designed to last - for a very long time. Virtually all of the plastic ever created still exists in some form today.

The term Plastic covers a range of synthetic materials. (Standby for some science ?) Plastics are polymers made up of long chains of repeating molecules. They are like a chain of beads clipped together. Each bead is made up of atoms, look exactly the same and link together with other beads to make a chain. This is what makes plastics so useful. We can make these chains as long as we need then weave, stick or tangled them together. We can then shape and mould plastics into objects or films or fibres.

A diagram of a plastic polymer chain.
Chemical structure of a plastic polymer.

What's the problem?

While plastic has many valuable uses - we wouldn’t have computers, mobile phones or cars without it. We do have a problem. And that is single-use plastics. According to the United Nations, "half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away". We are addicted to single-use plastic and it's having severe environmental consequences.

Did you know that a plastic bag is used for around 15 minutes, yet could take 100 – 300 years to break down? 5 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In Northern Ireland alone we used around 100 million last year and that's despite the 5p levy.

So how did we get here?

What do you think?