For billions of years, Earth has sustained an immeasurable number of lives and civilizations. From man-made catastrophes, to natural disasters, Earth takes those punches and bounces back to its (somewhat) original self. However, it seems that a new man-made catastrophe has been building up for years, one that may be too much for Earth to handle.
Plastic was invented around 1907 by Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian chemist living in New York at the time. The first official name for this substance was Bakelite (sometimes spelled Baekelite) or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride (try saying that five times as fast as you can!). Bakelite was crafted from formaldehyde and phenol, and it was a hit when it was finally patented in 1909. Manufactures used it for everything from makeup, jewelry, toys, etc. From then on, plastic was a cheap and easy way to mass produce items for the public, but it would be about fifty to sixty years before recycling came around. This meant that plastic was constantly being thrown into landfills, forests, and oceans. Even after the environmental movement began, plastic was still being tossed away without consideration, which would soon result in polluted areas around the world. Eco systems would be destroyed, forcing the inhabitants to either move or rebuild. Bakelite and other types of synthetic plastics had made life easier for humans, but at a greater cost than anyone could imagine.
Fast forward to present times, experts estimate that due to the world’s addiction to plastic, the Earth will only be able to last a few centuries. This is no surprise considering a plastic shopping bag takes 20 years to decompose, while plastic water bottles take around 250 years to decompose. Whenever you see a buildup of plastic waste along a shoreline or a river bank, imagine triple that amount. That is how much will be built up by the time 2050 comes around.
Not only is plastic wrecking the environment on land, but marine life is getting hit the worst. Approximately 100,000 marine animals are killed each year due to plastic pollution, and that number is growing with every year. Whales have been found on shorelines with indigestible plastic build up in their gut, as well as seagulls, fish, turtles, and many other sea animals. The fact that these innocent creatures are dying because of humanity’s selfishness should make everyone uncomfortable and be motivated to make a change. However, around 7.7 Billion people in the world simply think “it’s just one straw” “it’s just one plastic water bottle” and proceed to throw plastic into the trash. There is only so much recycling efforts can do for Earth, and that is why scientists and environmentalists are teaming up to make a change.
Boyan Slat founded the infamous “Ocean Cleanup” in 2013 when he was just 16 years old. He realized how much damage plastic really does to the Earth and decided to do something about it. After years of hard work and collaboration, Slat came up with a possible solution; System 001. It is a U-shaped contraption that is about 2,000 feet long, and it has a skirt underneath that collects smaller bits of waste underwater. It’s purpose is to travel in the ocean, mostly near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and collect plastic and other waste. The completed experimental device was launched in November 2018 between Hawaii and California. Unfortunately, though, the contraption did not collect nearly as much plastic as Slat and other scientists hoped. However, Slat prefers to look at it as an educational experience rather than a failure. He plans to take what went wrong into consideration and tweak System 001 to prevent the same failures.
Another great organization that is geared toward the environment and protecting the Earth is actually a bit more local. Focus on the Forest is a group located in Woodland Park that organizes forest trash clean-ups in local camping spots and hiking trails (you can find them and get updates on their work by visiting Focus on the Forest’s facebook page, or by chekcing out their website; www.focusontheforest.org). Woodland Park is very lucky to have such a dedicated group of people that care about the wellness of our environment, but they are not the only ones who have the ability to take care of our for our forests. As the public, we need to recycle, leave hiking trails and camping spots better than we found them, and especially educate ourselves on the impact pollution and waste makes on our Earth.
“It’s just one straw!” said 7.7 billion people, resulting in the worst pollution issue in human history. Being environmentally conscious should be apart of everyone’s way of life, and we need to educate ourselves and younger generations on why taking care of our planet is important. After all, we only have one planet to call our own, so we might want to start cleaning it up so that future generations have a healthy and beautiful place to live.