In recent years, people have started cutting down on plastic consumption, as we have realised the effects plastic can have on the environment and our oceans. But although most people know that plastic cannot be absorbed back into the environment, there are many that are unaware just how much plastic ends up in our oceans - and how detrimental this can be.
Unfortunately, although plastic is a useful product, many of these products are created for single-use - with an estimated 50 per cent of plastic used once and thrown away. In addition to being bad for the environment, the amount of plastic in the ocean continues to grow - affecting wildlife and humans alike. Not only is this harmful to the environment and the oceans, but it is also harmful to wildlife - where it impacts nearly 700 species in the ocean, and humans. Wildlife become entangled in plastic, they eat it or mistake it for food and feed it to their young, and it is found littered in even extremely remote areas of the Earth.
The world is currently producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic each year - a significant amount of which will end up in the oceans. Plastic has been around in some form since the turn of the last century. Considered a miracle material at the time. Easy and cheap to manufacture, waterproof, moldable, corrosion-resistant, good electrical resistance, chemically inert and safe. It was quite literally, a revolution.
Plastic as a material is an excellent choice for many applications. What it is not such a good choice for, is food. After that, it gets thrown in the trash. If you are lucky it will end up in a landfill where it will sit for hundreds of years decomposing slowly, leaking toxins and emitting carbon and methane. If you are not so lucky it may end up in the ocean along with the 100’s of millions of tons of other plastic garbage. This plastic either gets washed up on shore or breaks down in the oceans. This is then eaten by the wildlife who are getting sick or dying in vast numbers.
All plastics contain chemicals which are necessary during the manufacturing process. These chemicals have been proven to be toxic to humans. Not only are we using these plastics to wrap our foods but we are also eating it. There is so much plastic trash in the oceans now that fish have started to eat the plastic.
But what’s of even more concern is that even supposedly “safe” plastics have been found to have hormone-disrupting effects. And manufacturers are not required to disclose any of the additives in their plastics. So we can’t be sure that any plastics are safe.
It seems to be a common theme in history that the things that lead to great progress and convenience also come with a big price. This seems to be very much true with plastic products and packaging. There is no denying that inexpensive plastics have made many aspects of food and water distribution much easier, but emerging research and data from decades of increasing use of plastics suggest that we need to seriously reevaluate our plastic usage. The chemicals in plastics are known endocrine disruptors, and this common thread may explain why we are seeing these problems in many species of animals around the world.
By now you've likely seen the viral Facebook posts sharing how sea turtles are being harmed by plastic. Or maybe the images of scuba divers attempting to swim through clouds of trash. It's neither an exaggeration nor something that will magically get better. There is a massive amount of plastic in the oceans, but there are ways to fix the issue. Something as simple as ditching plastic straws could just save the world, and there are simple ways to take personal action on the problem.
While plastic, in general, is an issue for sea creatures, it's straws that pose the biggest threat to our oceans. According to Strawless Ocean, over 500 million straws are used every day in the United States. Many straws end up being blown out of trash cans, left on beaches, or washing up into drains — all three of which will likely end in the oceans. According to the website, even the straws that are thrown into recycling bins will likely blow out or be too light to actually make it through the recycling process.
When we consider how long it takes for plastic to break down, and the high levels of plastic pollution found even in areas not inhabited by humans, we can start to understand how big of a problem plastic pollution can be.