An estimated 90% of all toys are made of plastic. These are used for a short time or even several years but have a much longer lifetime on earth as garbage. Most plastics are made from fossil fuels. Newer plastics that contain a portion of material derived from plants are marketed as bioplastics; however, these materials are usually not fully compostable and currently are more challenging to recycle. Plastic manufacturing began in the late 1920s, but about half of all plastics have been made in the past 15 years. Consequently, we now generate enormous amounts of waste that do not decompose like natural materials. A recent estimate of plastics entering the oceans each year is around 11 million metric tons — 3 million more than previous estimates.
Experts believe that the solution to the massive plastic waste problem requires an overhaul of the world’s plastic system. Reusing and recycling plastic must be done in a circular economy, where there is a continual reprocessing and reformulation of the materials. In this manner, plastics are treated as valuable resources instead of waste. McDonald’s has announced that by 2025, 90% of its Happy Meals toys will be made from recycled or plant-derived plastics. (Although some may regard these toys as unnecessary.) Plastic packaging is the biggest creator of plastic waste. This needs to be phased out as much as possible and other single-use plastics.
Back to the toys – have we exposed children to unhealthy amounts of plastics? Plastic toys contain all kinds of additives, many known to be toxic. All plastic materials are now known to release microplastics. The more children are exposed to plastics, the more microplastics and additives enter their bodies. We are just beginning to learn about the human health effects of microplastics. It is essential to point out that we can reduce these materials in our lives. This is challenging – look around at the extent of plastic materials in our lives, keeping in mind that these materials did not exist a few generations ago. It is an excellent idea to reduce the plastic materials in our lives, realizing that we still have much to learn.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.