By Mackenzie Pedersen, Staff Writer
The world is facing a new public enemy. The name of this enemy is Plastic Pollution.
Plastic is not a new phenomenon to the global economy. But it is still dangerous. Plastic has been around for the last 60 years, and is found in many facets of human consumption. It covers the thousands of products in grocery stores, from produce to meats to cleaning products. As stated by Conserve Energy Future, “Plastic is an incredibly useful material, but it is also made from toxic compounds known to cause illness… it is meant for durability, it is not biodegradable.”
People tend to adhere to a common misconception: ‘when I throw away my plastic, it’s gone forever.’ However, this is not the case. When a plastic object is thrown away, that does not mean it suddenly disintegrates out of existence. Furthermore, as the population continues to grow, consumption and plastic pollution will reach astronomical proportions. According to a pictorial provided by the BBC News, approximately 8.3 billion tons of virgin plastics have been produced to date. Roughly, only 9% of plastics are recycled, and about 12% being incinerated! The UN Environment organization projects that by 2050, the world’s oceans will have more plastic than fish!
As mentioned above, plastics are not biodegradable. This means that plastics are not able to be decomposed/broken down by bacteria or other living organisms. Rather than breaking down and becoming energy for other organisms, plastics breaks down into smaller pieces. From there, they continue to break down into pieces that are microscopic.
“Most people are aware of the visible plastic pollution such as discarded bottles and other waste items washed up on beaches, but it is the invisible plastics that are likely to pose the bigger risks to animals and plants… the problems will only get worse unless drastic action is taken to curb the sale of disposable plastic products worldwide and dispel the idea that plastic waste can be just thrown away.”
Why Plastics are Harmful for Wildlife
For wildlife, plastic pollution is detrimental. Birds, turtles, dolphins, and fish are often found with plastic wrapped around their bodies. Furthermore, the BBC News explains that animals become entangled in debris, which further endangers the lives of marine life. Additionally, animals unfortunately mistake plastics for food. For example, “turtles cannot distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish.” Once plastics are consumed, it causes internal damage. Plastic pollution can cause blockages and irreparable damage to animals’ digestive systems. This causes malnutrition, internal bleeding, and ultimately, death. Furthermore, with microplastics floating rampant through the ocean, they become ingested by planktons and smaller fish. Consequently, those are then ingested by bigger fish, which are consumed by humans.
Why Plastics are Harmful for Humans
When fish commonly eaten by people ingest micro plastics, people wind up consuming those microplastics as well. If the idea of microscopic pieces of plastic doesn’t concern you, you might want to think again. While “the risk to people is still not known… there are concerns that microplastics can accumulate toxic chemicals and that the tiniest could enter the bloodstream,” according to an article published by The Guardian. The Guardian interviewed Rachel Hurley from the University of Manchester, who explained that microplastics are a global problem to be feared, as there is potential for human harm.
Hurley reiterates that while it is difficult to determine the direct effects of the consumption of microplastics, they do, in fact, enter our bodies. Additionally, scientists are unsure of the various contaminants that humans may ingest with those microplastics. Hurley goes on to say that as microplastics continue to break down: “It is the really small stuff we get worried about, as they can get through the membranes in the gut and in the bloodstream – that is the real fear.” What is even more alarming is the amount of microplastics found in both tap and bottled water.
‘Don’t Drink the [Bottled] Water’
The Gaurdian shared that the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a review of the potential risks of plastic in drinking water. This was the result of a study that found many of the world’s most popular water brands contained microplastics. This study tested 259 individual bottles across 11 brands that were purchased in 9 different countries. Of the 259 bottles, 93% showed signs of microplastic contamination. Polypropylene was the most common plastic found. This type of plastic is used most commonly for plastic in bottle caps.
What You can do to Beat Plastics
There are a variety of ways to Beat Plastics. The first step to battling any issue, such as plastic pollution, is to get informed. Next, make small changes to your lifestyle. A little goes a long way! Especially when taking a stand on Plastic Pollution.
Break up with Plastic! It sounds scary, but it is really easy. Do simple things, such as:
- Visit cleanseas.org and take the Pledge!
- Buy and use reusable bags for shopping.
- Use a reusable water bottle.
- Say no to straws!
There are also other great organizations to follow like: SurfRider, Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Earth Day! You can also take part in Plogging. This is the combination of running and picking up rubbish along the way. If you’re a diver, you can do the same thing while under the water! There are many ways to get involved and create impact!