The main problem with plastic - besides there being so much of it - is that it doesn't biodegrade. No natural process can break it down. Experts point out that the durability that makes plastic so useful to humans also makes it quite harmful to nature. Instead, plastic photodegrades. A plastic container cast out to sea will fragment into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic without breaking into simpler compounds, which scientists estimate could take hundreds of years. The small bits of plastic produced by photodegradation can get sucked up by filter feeders and damage their bodies. Other marine animals eat the plastic, which can poison them or lead to deadly blockages. Plastic threatens the entire food chain, especially when eaten by filter feeders that are then consumed by large creatures.
You have probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N and estimated to be twice the size of Texas. The patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastic and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.
Plastic chokes rivers, lakes, and oceans. It litters even the most remote areas of the planet. When burnt or incinerated it pollutes the air we breath. And let's not forget that the production of plastic is just as polluting and harmful to the environment as it is its disposal.
This is the legacy we are leaving to the next generations.
Despite that fact that plastic is not biodegradable our civilization is using it to produce billions of single-use, disposable items. Our throw-away culture hasn't been able to switch to natural materials simply because it's 'cheaper' to use plastic. An environmental tax on all plastic products is long overdue and would discourage the abuse of this material. It's time the environmental cost of plastic production and disposal is factored in so that other materials can become competitive, and people rethink their addiction to plastic.
What can the consumers do?
First of all, reuse and refill containers instead of throwing them away, drink filtered tap water instead of bottled water, if you have to eat and drink on the go, pack your own lunch box, always carry a flask, so that you can avoid disposable cups, when shopping choose products that leave no unwanted packaging behind, such as soap bars instead of liquid soap, buy fresh produce that is not pre-packaged, bring your own shopping bags, buy wooden toys instead of plastic ones, buy clothes made of natural fibers, and what is most important, reduce consumption. Buy only what you really really need. Buying more will not make you feel good, but it will certainly make you poorer and damage the environment.