Life in Plastic, It’s Not Fantastic
July 21, 2023
Life in Plastic, It’s Not Fantastic
With the new Barbie movie coming to theaters this Friday, July 21st, children and adults alike are excited to step into a dazzling realm of plastic paradise. But, the glamourous Barbieland mirrors a far-from-fantastical reality: our planet’s relentless reliance on plastic. Just like Barbie’s timeless appeal, the world has been drawn to the allure of convenience and cheapness plastic offers, creating our very own synthetic nightmare. Behind the facade of comfort and ease, plastic’s grip on society is riddled with disastrous environmental and social consequences.
Since plastic was introduced in the 1950s, over 8.3 billion metric tons (9.1 billion US tons) of plastic have been produced, 79% of which still remains in landfills or scattered throughout the natural environment. Global production is only growing, with over half of all plastic having been produced in the last 13 years. And, each year over 500 billion new plastic bags are created, meaning more than a million are produced every minute. Just like Barbieland, our planet is surrounded by plastic everywhere we look.
The unfettered production of plastic has dire environmental repercussions. Single-use plastics, which make up 40% of all plastic produced, are used once and thrown away to sit in landfills or make their way into bodies of water and other natural environments. Since plastic is not biodegradable, it has accumulated around us and this build-up hurts our ecosystems.
Each year, 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into our water harming the animals within and leading to pollution as microplastics break away from the waste making the water unsafe. Over 700 species, spanning from fish to mammals to birds, are affected by plastic pollution with tests confirming liver and cell damage and disruptions to reproductive systems.
Not only does plastic pollution harm our ecosystem, it can also have disastrous effects on human health. First, the production of plastic leads to greenhouse gas emissions polluting our airways. Second, when plastic waste is discarded, the chemicals within it contaminate our soil and water, making crucial resources such as farmland and drinking water toxic. And, the consumption of plastic is linked to severe adverse health outcomes such as cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive effects.
While the Barbie movie has fans looking at a “life in plastic” through rose-colored glasses, the reality is a lot less “gorgelicious.” Especially when considering the inequities existing within the communities affected by plastic pollution. Marginalized and low-income populations are affected disproportionately by plastic pollution at every step of the plastic lifecycle.
Furthermore, many countries in the global south do not have sufficient trash disposal systems, leading to worsened plastic pollution further exacerbated by wealthy countries dumping their waste to these nations. The unfathomable amount of waste communities face in the global south leads to anywhere between 400,000 and 1 million deaths a year.
While the Barbie movie champions equality and inclusiveness, it is impossible to decouple the glorification of plastic and its direct relationship to environmental and health degradation. In order to shift the world away from our plastic “paradise,” there needs to be collective action from governments, industries, and individuals. As an individual, it is your responsibility to make the consumption changes necessary to limit your plastic usage. Stay up to date by reading how to End Plastic Pollution and participate in The Great Global Cleanup. Our work as individuals is not enough; sign the Global Plastics Treaty petition and advocate for stronger policies. Together, we can make green the new pink.