It is in our lives every day and exponentially continues to integrate itself into all that we do. With the onset of rapid technological innovation, increasing spending power from highly populated, developing countries, and acute interconnectedness of the global economy, it is hard to imagine that it could be any less pervasive. So what can we do about Plastic and its externalities?
According to research by the World Watch Institute, plastic consumption reached nearly 300mn tons (think 900 Empire State Buildings) in 2014 compared to 1.7mn tons in 1950 (+18,194% or roughly +8.7% annually!). Although this increased production positively reflects the most rapid period of global growth ever, it also begs the question, “Where does it all go?”
For all of its benefits (flexible, inexpensive, light weight, etc), plastics are among the least biodegradable products made by man. While human usage of a plastic is relatively short term (think a garbage or grocery bag), its chemical nature guarantees that it sticks around for a lot longer. According to the WOE, a plastic cup may take up to 80 years to decompose while a common milk jug may take up to 1mn years. Suffice to say, close to every piece of plastic ever made, still exists today!
All of this would not be a real issue if it weren’t for leakage, improper disposal, and consequently pollution. Most of this pollution whether in its molecule (air) or physical form makes its way into the Ocean, causing detrimental harm to the most important natural habitat in the universe. According to the Oc, close to 5 trillion pieces of plastic particles or 268,940 tons of plastic are floating on the ocean surface. To make matters worse, between 6 million to 8 million metric tons of trash (14-18bn pounds!) of trash (approx. 90% plastic) are dumped or find their way into the ocean each year. This is equivalent to dumping one full garbage truck into the ocean each minute. Wait it gets worse! According to estimates from the Ocean Conservatory, it is estimated that currently there is 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish in the oceans; however, it is expected that in only 10 years (by 2025) that there will be more plastic than fish! This plastic is killing marine life, reducing the number of natural coral reefs, disturbuing economies dependent on fishery, and toxifying our atmosphere.
So has the Ocean become our giant, natural sink or garbage disposal? In a way, yes. It not only collects leaked trash from rivers and boats, but also absorbs the carbon emitted by its production and, in some cases, destruction. Plastic production currently requires 6% of total global oil production which is equivalent to the entire global aviation sector! If growth continues, fossil fuels required for plastic production could reach 20% of total oil consumption or 15% of the carbon budgets as set by the Paris Climate Agreement 2016.
So what does this mean for our future? And yes, all of this is related to yours, mine, our children, and our children’s children futures. What are we doing now to assure that the world, and more specifically the oceans, which we inherited, are in the same if not (dare I to say) better shape for future generations? The common answer that you will see and hear from your hippie, left-wing friends (of which I am not – I tend float with the free market, invisible hand ilk) is recycle and community involvement (will talk more about this in my next column). On this, I actually agree; however WE MUST DO MORE!
The numbers as stated above paint a bleak picture for those of us that believe that simply collecting trash on beaches and/or recycling our plastic cups and napkins is the sole answer. Although these efforts are necessary to generate what is called geometric progression (for another article), we cannot stop there and must look for ways to prevent plastic usage while looking for sustainable forms to reuse the plastic already in circulation.
I will leave you now with a list of 7 simple things you can do to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean, according to Ocean Society. Read and implement this guidance with much more than a grain of salt…your life might just depend on it.
7 Ways You Can Help Reduce Plastic Pollution (www.oceansociety.org)
Your Use of Single-Use Plastics
Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way that you can get started is by reducing your own use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded.
The best way to do this is by a) refusing any single-use plastics that you do not need (e.g. straws, plastic bags, takeout utensils), and b) purchasing, and carrying with you, reusable versions of those products, including reusable grocery bags, produce bags, bottles, utensils, coffee cups, and dry cleaning garment bags.
This should go without saying, but when you use single-use (and other) plastics that can be recycled, always be sure to recycle them. This helps keep them out of the ocean and reduces the amount of “new” plastic in circulation. If you need help finding a place to recycle plastic waste near you, check Earth911’s recycling directory.
- Participate in a Beach or River Cleanup
Help remove plastics from the ocean and prevent them from getting there in the first place by participating in, or organizing a cleanup of your local beach or waterway. This is one of the most direct and rewarding ways to fight ocean plastic pollution. You can simply go to the beach or waterway and collect plastic waste on your own or with friends or family, or you can join a local organization’s cleanup or an international event like the International Coastal Cleanup.
- Support Bans
Many municipalities around the world have enacted bans on single use plastic bags, takeout containers, and bottles. You can support the adoption of such policies in your community. Here is a list of resources for legislative bodies considering limiting the use of plastic bags.
- Avoid Microbeads
Tiny plastic particles, called “microbeads,” have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for “polythelene” and “polypropylene” on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products (find a list of products containing microbeads here).
- Spread the Word
Stay informed on issues related to plastic pollution and help make others aware of the problem. Tell your friends and family about how they can be part of the solution, or host a viewing party for one of the many plastic pollution focused documentaries, like Bag It, Addicted to Plastic, Plasticized, or Garbage Island.
- Support Organizations Addressing Plastic Pollution
There are many non-profit organizations working to tackle the problem of ocean plastic pollution in a variety of different ways, such as We Are Nature! We rely on donations from http://www.buy-trusted-tablets.com people like you to continue our important work. Even small donations can make a big difference!