Here's Why Plastic is a Problem

From bags to straws, single-use plastic is an intricate part of daily life in Cambodia, but it's not sustainable.

Plastic was introduced to Cambodia around 25 years ago, and has since climbed to dangerous levels of production and use. Plastic is cheap and convenient, but its use is not conducive to a sustainable and healthy society.

Impacts on Our Environment

Lasting for hundreds of years, plastic leaches harmful chemicals into the environment, drastically affecting marine life and jeopardizing diverse ecosystems. Here are some of the facts you should know about plastic and the environment.

  • Plastic is now the most prevalent type of marine debris found in the ocean. Eight million tonnes of plastic flows into our oceans annually, mostly by way of rivers, such as the Mekong. As a result, one million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die every year from ingesting plastic. 

  • Scientists believe that plastic will outpace fish populations in our oceans by 2050. 

  • Coral reef ecosystems are dying, part of which can be attributed to abrasion and damage caused by plastic fishing gears. 

  • Studies report that 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of whale and dolphin species, and 100 percent of sea turtle species have ingested plastic or are living in plastic. There have also been many accounts (344 reported cases) of marine animals becoming entangled from plastic materials, leading to severe harm or death.

Impacts on Our Health

Plastic is now an intricate part of our food chain, and it’s causing a plethora of health complications for human beings. Here are some facts you should know about plastic and your health.

  • Most plastics in the ocean slowly break up into particles, known as microplastics. Fish and marine animals consume these microplastics, causing toxic chemicals to accumulate and move up the food chain to humans. By ingesting fish, we’re increasing our chances of health complications in the future.

  • Fish comprises more than 60 percent of protein intake for rural Cambodians. Concerningly, microfibers and other plastic microparticles have been found in human tissues. Extended exposure to plastics has been linked to cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, inflammatory bowel disease, endocrine disruption, and a number of other ailments.
  • Burning plastics releases harmful chemicals, such as dioxins and furans, into the atmosphere. Breathing in these toxic chemicals exacerbates respiratory illnesses.
  • Cross-sector exposure to plastic materials has detrimental impacts on human health. The exraction and transportation, refining and manufacturing, consumer use, and waste management of plastic impedes our health in a wide variety of ways. For example, humans that are exposed to toxic emissions from the plastics manufacturing process (through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact) are susceptible to neurotoxicity, cancers, reproductive toxicity, and eye and skin irritation. Exposure has also been linked to low birth weights. 

Impacts on Our Economy

Plastic waste exacerbates the damaging impacts of floods, as it blocks waterways and clogs sewage and drainage systems. Solving this problem requires government intervention and regulation, but clean-up costs are substantial. Here are some things you should know about plastic and how it affects the economy. 

  • In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban plastic bags after they blocked the drainage system and caused a devastating flood. Repairing the drainage system and cleaning up after the flood was costly and time consuming. 

  • Single-use plastics are difficult to recycle because costs are high, and resources required are extensive. 

  • Ocean clean-ups and marine ecosystem revitalization projects are expensive and require direct intervention from government. The projected loss of polluted marine ecosystems is up to $2.5 trillion

  • Plastic waste is believed to cost up to $33,000 per tonne in reduced environmental value.