Plastic pollution is a growing issue. It is believed up to 12 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in our ocean each year, and a recent study carried out by The World Economic Forum and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
What is Plastic Pollution?
Simply put, it is an accumulation of plastic in a single area that has a negative effect on the environment. Our on-the-go lifestyle has seen a spike in plastic waste - with carrier bags, straws, disposable coffee cups and bottled water being so readily accessible and convenient. Some suggest that this disposable way of living is having, not only a negative effect on the planet, but on our health also.
NHS and Plastic Waste
The NHS is a large contributor to the plastic waste epidemic, with plastic disposable cups at the forefront of the NHS plastic footprint. Recent data has shown that approximately 300,000 plastic cups are used on a daily basis within the NHS alone. Within the dental practice, plastic is unavoidable; not only are there plastic cups, but also plastic barrier covers and single use instruments. Infection control policies dictate that dental waste should be disposed in orange clinical waste bags, which are then incinerated. But, during the incineration process, harmful toxins are released from the plastic and this pollutes the air.
Why is Plastic Pollution Such a Big Deal?
Every piece of plastic ever produced still exists today. Plastic is being mass produced, yet it is often only being used once before being discarded. Plastic threatens the marine life, upsets the food chain and pollute the land and air. As so much plastic is now in the ocean, it is unavoidable for the marine life that inhabit the ocean, often becoming tangled, trapped or suffocate in the plastic debris. Certain plastics break down into micro-plastics, which is then ingested by smaller fish, meaning that plastic will be present in seafood that we eat everyday. For plastic that remains in a landfill, it will not decompose and will remain there, continuously mounting up. Plastic litter can be picked up by the wind, getting stuck in trees, fences and even pot holes in the road as well as littering the streets.
This ever present plastic is polluting the land we live on and the air we breathe, and there is no way of avoiding it unless we are all prepared to make a life change and to reduce the amount of plastic we consume.
Let's Make Dentistry Green!
As dental professionals, we can be the catalyst the NHS needs to tackle plastic pollution. Have a look around your dental surgery - how much plastic can you see? What can you do to reduce the amount of plastic you use? Look at replacing disposable instruments with autoclavable instruments, such as suction tips and triple syringes. Source biodegradable alternatives for plastic cups and bulk buy to eliminate expensive bills. Recycle where possible, and if waste has not been contaminated, think - does this really need to be disposed of in clinical waste or can it be recycled? Encourage your patients to be more economical at home and educate them about other alternatives they can use, such as bamboo toothbrushes.
Everyone has the ability to do something about this growing epidemic. We all have the power to reduce our plastic footprint and help preserve our earth for future generations. Take the plastic pledge and say no to single use plastics!