Plastics take an awfully long time to decompose, whether we’re talking about plastics in landfills or in the sea.
Plastic bottles and plastic cups need about 450 years to decompose.
Plastic toothbrushes, coffee pods, and disposable diapers are even worse – they take around 500 years.
Even a seemingly innocent plastic straw needs about 200 years to decay.
Over time, plastics break into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. Whales, corals, turtles, seabirds, and other animals ingest these, mistaking them for food. Microplastics can contain a lot of harmful chemicals.
These chemicals can have far-reaching effects on animals. It can impair their reproduction and reduce their lifespan. Even when microplastics are not ingested, they remain a persistent source of pollution.
Plastics also cause entanglement when animals get caught in plastic debris and are unable to liberate themselves. Many entangled animals die from suffocation or starvation.
Plastics contaminate the land as well. Chlorinated plastics, in particular, release harmful pollutants in the soil and in groundwater.
To make matters worse, plastic contributes to the global increase in greenhouse gas emissions. According to a 2019 CIEL report, plastics will be responsible for the release of 850 million tons of CO2 in 2019 alone, with emissions predicted to increase exponentially in the years to come.