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A Deep Dive into Plastic Pollution

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Can we survive without ocean?

by Arpita Cuddapah

The ocean is indispensable for all aspects of human existence and well-being. Most of our atmospheric oxygen comes from the oceans. The oceans provide us with the air we breathe, absorb carbon dioxide, and play a significant role in regulating the global climate system. We can therefore say that the oceans are the very foundation of human life. Join the Ocean Cleanup Projects by individuals like you!
 
The plastic pollution obsession
Look around take a deep dive into plastic pollution – plastic is everywhere- right from the health sector to solar panels to packaging. But what makes plastic an infallible material?

The answer is it is cheap!
Besides being cheap, it is also a tremendously versatile compound. Plastic is a lightweight, hygienic, and resistant material that has the ability to be molded in any desirable form, making it an ideal choice across industries.  
 

Plastic Pollution on Land

It is time we acknowledge that we are faced by a plastic waste crisis both plastic pollution on land and flowing into our Ocean, warranting our urgent attention and measures.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (‘UNEP’), more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s, and about 60% of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment.

Needless to say, the need of the hour is to reduce the flow of plastic at its source. However, we must also not lose sight of the fact that we ought to improve our methods of managing plastic waste.
A shocking 8 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year. Rivers across the world serve as direct conduits of trash which leads to rivers carrying waste from deep inland to the seas. According to the UNEP, if the current trend continues, plastic will outweigh fish in our oceans by 2050.
 
Plastic has a big Carbon Footprint
The production of plastic is largely reliant on fossil hydrocarbons, which are non-renewable resources. Researches have asserted that the plastic industry uses as much oil as the aviation sector.
The oil consumed to make plastics is projected to jump from 6% to 20% of all oil consumed across the world, and the carbon footprint of plastic production is on track to grow from 1% in 2014 to 15% by 2050.

Carroll Muffett, head of the Center for International Environmental Law (‘CIEL’), says, “emissions from plastics production and incineration could account to 56 gigatons of carbon between now and 2050.” That is 56 billion tons, or almost 50 times the annual emissions of all of the coal power plants in the U.S.! Geyer, Jambeck, and Law, 2017

Impact on environment and marine life

From the Arctic to the Antarctica, plastic is ubiquitous. When we talk about marine debris, it is pertinent to discuss the phenomenon of garbage patches. Garbage patches are large areas of the ocean where marine debris accumulates. The debris, which largely varies in size, is not only present across the surface of the ocean but goes down to the ocean floor.  

These patches are a consequence of rotating ocean currents called “gyres”. There are five gyres in the ocean. One in the Indian Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean, and two in the Pacific Ocean. Garbage patches of varying sizes are located in each gyre.

The Guardian reported in 2019 that, on the Henderson island, an uninhabited coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean, an estimated 18 tons of plastic has accumulated over the years. What is more, last year, the deepest ever ocean dive found plastic waste at the bottom of the Mariana Trench!

It is safe to conclude that our planet is drowning in plastic waste.
The most apparent and disheartening impact is the ingestion, suffocation, and entanglement of hundreds of marine species in the marine debris.

Turtles, whales, seabirds, fishes, and other marine animals often mistake plastic waste for prey. This had led to several specifies of marine wildlife dying of starvation as their gut is filled with plastic debris. According to a research carried out by Plymouth University, plastic pollution affects at least 700 marine species. Globally, 100,000 marine mammals die every year as a result of plastic pollution. This includes whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions.

Does this impact us as well?

The short answer to this question is YES! The marine litter has now trickled into the food chain.

Since plastic may take hundreds of years to decay, fish and wildlife are increasingly intoxicated. As a result, toxins from the plastic have now entered the food chain, threatening our own lives. In the most polluted places in the ocean, the mass of plastic exceeds the amount of plankton six times over. Toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues. In conclusion, today we are ingesting contaminated fish and mammals.

What can we do?

Ocean Blue Project, a local nonprofit organization of Oregon, refuses to use plastic bags to cleanup waterways and beaches. Ocean Blue obtains free burlap coffee bags for their cleanups.

Ocean Blue Project is spearheading the movement to ban plastic water bottles in Oregon. This is such an overwhelming issue that it is easier to turn a blind eye or ignore the plastic crisis altogether. Ocean Blue has created this easy and simple guide to help you make the shift in your habits to ensure a sustainable future for us all.

Remember that this is just like changing any habit, so it may be challenging at first. Also think about how it is like second nature to bring your cell phone, keys, and wallet with you everywhere you go.

  1. Say no to all single use plastic products
  2. Purchase upcycled products
  3. Participate in beach/river cleanups (Create a Cleanup)
  4. Avoid products which contain microbeads
  5. Amplify your voice
  6. Support organizations like Oceans Blue Project

Paint Can found floating in the Ocean.

While the statistics and information available on plastic pollution may overwhelm us, we must remember that our collective actions will make a difference!

aplastic-crisis-photo-of-ocean-blue-group
Microplastics research on Manzanita, Oregon.

Every piece of plastic you remove from the environment will save at least one marine mammal or land bird. Our earth is a mirror reflection of our one world Ocean. Support the Ocean Cleanup and Beach Cleanup by donation to micorplastics removal. Learn more about protection of our marine animals.

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