Our Plastic Problem: A Conundrum that Must Be Resolved

By: Yosef Scher  |  May 12, 2022

By Yosef Scher, Science & Technology Editor

This past semester, I was fortunate enough to be hired for the very competitive and coveted Shabbos waiter position. Over the course of the three meals plastic items, such as soda bottles and table cloths, are thrown away, usually after being used just once. Of course, the waitstaff diligently follows the New York food code and would certainly handle the situation if there was a better alternative, but there isn’t one. Even recycling, which is known to be one of the most effective ways to lessen pollution, has its shortcomings. For example, according to Conserve Energy Future, a website that provides users with information related to renewable energy sources, “recycling results in more pollution, higher energy consumption, and cost-inefficiency, and thus becomes less effective.” 

Besides having a much deeper appreciation for our kitchen staff, being a waiter has revealed to me why scientists predict that plastic will outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050. Think about that statement for one second. In a little more than twenty years, there will be more plastic in our oceans than wildlife that has continuously evolved and existed for billions of years! How could a person not be phased by this alarming statistic?! This statistic is based on the fact that “between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean––enough to cover every foot of coastline on the planet!” Nevermind each year, but “every minute of every day a truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean.” As populations continue to flourish, the amount of plastic in our oceans will exponentially grow, with some predictions forecasting 58.4 million tons of plastic within the next ten years! 

If polluting our planet does not deter you from using plastics, perhaps hearing that the average American ingests “between 203 and 312 bits of plastic every day”––a fact that concerns you and your child’s health––will persuade you to reconsider buying that plastic item in the store. Many plastic products contain chemical additives, which have been proven to cause “hormone-related cancers, infertility and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism.” For the individuals who are fortunate enough to not have any of these diseases and disorders, just know that the CDC discovered that BPA, a harmful compound found in many plastic products, was found in “93% of urine samples taken from people above the age of six.” The research has been conducted and has revealed the negative consequences that will ensue unless we do something to change the landfill-like trajectory that our planet is projected to become.

So, what can we do? The next time you go to the store, consider buying a reusable bag instead of using a plastic shopping bag to store your groceries in. In addition to saving you a few cents by not paying the plastic bag tax many stores charge in certain states, you will be helping the environment. Furthermore, why not buy a reusable water bottle instead of spending money and harming the environment by purchasing water bottles that may likely end up in the ocean? Have some free time on your hands? Consider partaking in or organizing a beach cleanup to make our beaches more pleasant places to visit while also improving the coastal and ocean ecosystems that many organisms rely upon.

Small choices like these will lead to significant changes in the big picture. However, until a concrete solution is discovered, which may include scientists developing enzymes to break down plastics in a mere couple of days, we must be more vigilant with our choices because the ramifications for us and the generations to come will be beyond our control and comprehension.