WE MADE PLASTIC. WE DEPEND ON IT. NOW WE’RE DROWNING IN IT..pdf - PLANET OR PLASTIC WE MADE PLASTIC WE DEPEND ON IT NOW WE’RE DROWNING IN IT READ

WE MADE PLASTIC. WE DEPEND ON IT. NOW WE’RE DROWNING IN IT..pdf

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R E A D C A P T I O N The miracle material has made modern life possible. But more than 40 percent of it is used just once, and it’s choking our waterways. B Y L A U R A PA R K E R P H OTO G R A P H S B Y R A N DY O L S O N 1 6 M I N U T E R E A D This story is part of Planet or Plastic?—our multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis. Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge. Read this story and more in the June 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine. If plastic had been invented If plastic had been invented when the Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth, England, to North America—and the Mayflower had been stocked with bottled water and plastic-wrapped snacks—their plastic trash would likely still be around, four centuries later. If the Pilgrims had been like many people today and simply tossed their empty bottles and wrappers over the side, Atlantic waves and sunlight would have WE MADE PLASTIC. WE DEPEND ON IT. NOW WE’RE DROWNING IN IT. P L A N E T O R P L A S T I C ?
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bottles and wrappers over the side, Atlantic waves and sunlight would have worn all that plastic into tiny bits. And those bits might still be floating around the world’s oceans today, sponging up toxins to add to the ones already in them, waiting to be eaten by some hapless fish or oyster, and ultimately perhaps by one of us. We should give thanks that the Pilgrims didn’t have plastic, I thought recently as I rode a train to Plymouth along England’s south coast. I was on my way to see a man who would help me make sense of the whole mess we’ve made with plastic, especially in the ocean. Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.
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No one knows how much unrecycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean, Earth’s last sink. In 2015, Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia engineering professor, caught everyone’s attention with a rough estimate: between 5.3 million and 14 million tons each year just from coastal regions. Most of it isn’t thrown off ships, she and her colleagues say, but is dumped carelessly on land or in rivers, mostly in Asia. It’s then blown or washed into the sea. Imagine five plastic grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash, Jambeck says, sitting on every foot of coastline around the world—that would correspond to about 8.8 million tons, her middle-of-the-road estimate of what the ocean gets from us annually. It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.
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  • Fall '08
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