Generally, microplastics are classified into three categories: polypropylene, polyethylene, and polystyrene. Polypropylene is used to make bottle caps, part of utensils, coolers, and cups. Meanwhile, polyethylene is mostly used to make plastic bags. It’s all can be found in everyday products.
From the massive amount of plastic waste produced every day, only 21% or less is recycled. The rest will end up in landfills, taking a thousand years to decompose. This long time of decomposition creates a long term effect of plastic pollution, which can be seen in marine life, soil, and human’s health.
Effect of Plastic Pollution on Marine Life
Long term effects of plastic pollution on marine life is quite visible because of its prevalence. Thanks to every day littering and inadequate waste disposal, most plastic pollution end up to the ocean and eaten by animals there. It is so severe that these plastic particles are found in over 100 marine species.
For example, almost half of the sea turtles in the world ingested plastic. Some might starve since the plastic in their stomach made them believe that they had already eaten foods. On beaches, plastic pollution affects turtle because it alters sand’s temperature where turtle incubate their egg. Because of that, turtles might have lower reproduction rates than before.
Plastic waste is also killing a million seabirds each year. The reason is the same as sea turtle—starvation. Many dead seabirds are found with a stomach full of plastic waste. It is estimated that 60 percent seabird ate pieces of plastic and will keep increasing to 99 percent in 2050.
Dolphin poses a lesser risk because their high intelligence saves them from eating plastic. However, they might indirectly eat plastic if the prey that they eat has plastic in their stomach.
Effect of Plastic Pollution to Soil
Before talking about the long term effects of plastic pollution on soil, we need to know that plastic won’t decompose completely. Instead, it just changes its chemical and physical properties into microplastic, which might have a toxic effect on organisms.
Based on research on Germany, microplastic impact on sediments, soils, and freshwaters might have a worse long term effect on the ecosystem than marine pollution. Depending on each environment, plastic pollution in the soil can be 4 to 23 times higher in term of its harmful effects.
Plastic particles from plastic waste can pollute soil by changing its soil chemistry. The undecomposed plastic particle contains Bisphenol A and phthalates that when being put in the soil will disrupt invertebrates and vertebrates’ hormone system. This extremely tiny particle can go into the creature’s cell and change the biochemical reactions and gene expressions.
Effect of Plastic Pollution on Human’s Health
Plastic has seven stages of the lifecycle. To determine the effects of plastic pollution on human’s health, lifecycle approach of plastic is needed. By considering each of plastic’s lifecycle and the scope of its impacts on human’s health, we can make an informed decision to address each risk.
In the first stage, plastic’s extraction and transportation out of fossil feedstock released toxic substances that can cause neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, and even cancer. In the second stage, the production of additives released carcinogenic that can impair the nervous system. In the third stage, packaging to consumer products can cause ingestion of microplastic with hundreds of toxic substance.
In the fourth stage, plastic waste management released toxic substances containing lead and mercury that can enter air, soil, and water. They cause a health risk to nearby life, including human. The firth stage—fragmenting and microplastic—can cause cardiovascular disease while the sixth stage—cascading exposure—can spread toxic chemical to human. Environmental exposure as the last stage contaminates good chains through the soil, marine life, and water supply which causes the possibility of human exposure.
Many people don’t realize how dangerous the effects of plastic pollution are because most of them are long terms effects. However, plastic pollution isn’t just harming the ecosystem in the long run, but it also impacts to human’s health.