Plastic doesn’t decompose the same way organic material does. Food scraps, plants and wood undergo a process called biodegradation, which means they’re broken down by microorganisms once they are buried in the soil. Once decomposed, organic matter helps the soil retain its structural integrity, protects plants from diseases and parasites, and replenishes the soil with nutrients to produce healthy plants and nutritious crops. But microorganisms don’t eat plastic.
Plastic breaks down through a process called photodegradation, which occurs when plastic is exposed to ultraviolet light. UV rays break the bonds that hold plastic molecules together, turning one big piece of plastic into a bunch of little pieces, but they will never contribute to the sustainability of an ecosystem the way organic matter does because they are still plastic. Furthermore, as plastics break apart they release toxic chemicals, contaminating the air, land and water and in turn, contamination the food chain.
These persistant chemicals pollutants pose a threat to virtually all living organisms on the planet. Exposure to petroleum fossil fuels and their products can lead to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, neurological defects, brain, liver and kidney damage, compromised immunity, endocrine dysfunction, and cancer.3 Plastics are also a physical hazard for wildlife as they routinely choke, get trapped and are otherwise harmed by discarded everyday items.4