The plastic waste problem
Plastic is a great invention. That may sound like a weird thing for us at Raindrop to say - after all we're in the business of making household cleaning plastic-free - but it is true. In medicine, life-saving devices such as heart valves, incubators, and disposable syringes are made of plastic. Plastics are used in cars to reduce weight and increase efficiency, as well as in air bags which save lives. Most of the computer and phone technology we use today would not be possible without some use of plastic. Plastic is flexible, light, strong and can be very long lasting - we've got a washing up bowl at Raindrop that is at least thirty years old!
Billions of tons of plastic waste lasting hundreds of years
The problem isn't plastic per se, it's how much of it we're using and how we use it. Because it is flexible, light and cheap it's used anywhere and everywhere - even when far more eco-friendly alternatives exist and could be easily adopted. And it's also seen as a completely disposable material. Which means since 1950, over 8.8 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide but only 9% has been recycled. Which means over 8 billion tons are left polluting the planet. This waste plastic will take anything up to 400 years to break down, and even then the micro plastic particles left behind will be around, well, essentially forever.
Much of that waste plastic ends up in our oceans.
The plastic pollution we can see...
On one level, this waste plastic is all too visible. For example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area in the North Pacific where a swirling whirlpool of ocean currents collects plastic waste in a floating dump twice the size of France. There are estimates it would take at least over 60 ships one year to collect just 1% of the plastic waste it currently contains. And it is growing all the time.
It's also visible in the impact it has on life in the oceans. Nearly 700 species, according to Plymouth Uni are in danger of extinction because of plastic waste, and deaths due to plastic each year number in the millions. Most animals die through entanglement, because plastics have blocked digestive tracts or pierced organs causing death, or due to stomachs so packed with plastics animals lose the urge to eat, causing starvation
The plastic pollution we can't see
On another level, it's pretty much invisible. Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the ocean, and feed into the precipitation cycle meaning they have been found in every part of the world, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough. They are also in much of the seafood we eat (on average you'll ingest 11,000 pieces of microplastic a year in the seafood you eat).
We're still finding out about the effect toxic microplastics have on human and animal health, but scientists are seeing liver and cell damage, disruptions to reproductive systems, endocrine disruption and cancers.
Obviously, part of the solution needs to be cleaning up and removing plastic waste from the eco system. Work is being done on mechanical removal technology and using micro-organsims to eat up plastic waste.
But a big part of the solution needs to be to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic we use, and the amount of plastic waste we generate. We set up Raindrop so we could play a small part in helping people do that. But there are other things we need to do as well. Some of this is at governmental level - passing laws to restrict plastic use and waste. Some of this we can do by modifying our own choices and behaviour - we've produced a guide this this here.
Whatever it is we do, we need to do it quickly - the plastic problem is getting worse and worse every year. Using Raindrop means you're already taking positive steps, but don't stop there. We've put together more information and tips on reducing your plastic footprint in these articles:
- Kicking the plastic bottle habit
- Alternatives to the plastic kitchen sponge
- What is Plastic-Free July?
START CLEANING THE ECO WAY
Are your cleaning products free from plastic-waste? Raindrop cleans just as well as your regular brand, without the plastic waste.