THE INVENTION OF PLASTIC is such a boon but it has come under close scrutiny lately because of its harmful after effects. Exposed to light and waves, plastic breaks down into very tiny bits. Known as microplastics, they have become problematic. That’s partly because when they end up in the environment, they also can end up in animals, our food and our drinking water.

Discarded plastic is not the only source of them. Some bits are made on purpose, for use in skin-care products and toothpaste. They’re used to scrub away dead skin and cavity-causing material on teeth. When we shower or rinse our mouths, those microplastics go down the drain. From there, they end up in our waterways.

Our drinking water comes from lakes, rivers and groundwater aquifers. Any of these may be tainted with microplastics. Our bodies can poop out plastics we’ve ingested, but no one knows how long it takes for them to move through the body.

Researchers don’t yet know exactly the risks but it is better to be cautious. Ingredients in some plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride, can cause cancer. Plastic also can soak up pollution like a sponge. The pesticide DDT and PCBs (a type of insulating fluid) are two types of toxic pollution found in plastics floating in the ocean.

Plastic bits also have been turning up in fish, birds, corals and other aquatic animals. That’s a problem because plastic does not provide the energy and nutrients these creatures need to grow and thrive.

The simple solution is to not buy plastic items. Straws make up a lot of the plastic trash found washed up on ocean coasts and lakeshores. One way to cut down on your plastic use is to avoid straws (if you are able to drink without one).

The leaders of some countries also have banned single-use plastic items. These are things, such as packaging, that we use once and then throw away.

Bangladesh, Kenya and New Zealand are three countries that have banned plastic bags. Some U.S. cities and a few states also have banned them. Representing 28 countries, the European Parliament has agreed to ban nearly a dozen single-use plastics. Europe’s ban includes single-use cutlery, plates, straws and drink stirrers.

VSU tried to implement banning plastic use in its market about 20 years ago led by then President Paciencia P. Milan. It met a lot of opposition and so the idea was eventually scrapped. I guess VSU was ahead of its time. Now,  Baybay City bans the use of any plastic in stores and eateries on Tuesdays.

Such bans are a good start. But scientists say people must do more. One strategy is to find alternatives to conventional plastics. Some companies are starting to replace single-use plastic items with biodegradable alternatives. These new products are designed to break down into harmless chemicals. That is the way to go but it will take some time before this is universally practiced. The other problem with biodegradable plastics is that people often throw them into the recycling bin with regular plastic. By Manny Palomar, PhD (EV Mail June 17-23, 2024 issue)