This image might be comical to some, but plastic pollution is no laughing matter.
Back in the 1960s, plastic items like grocery bags were first becoming very popular in stores across the country.
It was later on in this decade that the first plastic debris in the ocean was observed.
Over the years, the amount of single-use plastics (like straws, bags, and cups) being used has been growing as society seeks more and more convenience.
Being sustainable is more work, but it’s a pay now or pay later type of deal.
Most of society, unfortunately, would rather pay later. But that has lead to the environmental crisis we are facing today.
These plastics don’t just disappear. In fact, most plastics will take 500+ years to decompose.
The first plastic items that were ever made, still exist today.
As of 2015, only 20% of plastic is recycled. An improvement from the 9% recycled between the 1950s and 2015.
About another 25 percent is incinerated, leaving over half of all plastics entering our ecosystem.
Plastic in the Ocean
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. It is located halfway between Hawaii and California and contains a large percentage of all the plastic in the ocean.
The mass of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) was estimated to be approximately 80,000 tonnes, which is 4-16 times more than previous calculations. This weight is also equivalent to that of 500 Jumbo Jets.
The vast majority of plastics retrieved were made of rigid or hard polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), or derelict fishing gear (nets and ropes particularly). Ranging in size from small fragments to larger objects and meter-sized fishing nets.
Plastic Pollution Facts and Effects on Life
Not only does plastic pollution in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch pose risks for the safety and health of marine animals, but there are health and economic implications for humans as well.
Plastic in the ocean has increasingly become a ubiquitous substance.
Due to its size and color, animals confuse the plastic for food, causing malnutrition; it poses entanglement risks and threatens their overall behavior, health, and existence.
Once plastic enters the marine food web, there is a possibility that it will contaminate the human food chain as well.
Efforts to clean and eradicate ocean plastic have also caused significant financial burdens.
Through a process called bio-accumulation, chemicals in plastics will enter the body of the animal feeding on the plastic.
As the feeder becomes the prey, the chemicals will pass to the predator – making their way up the food chain, including humans.
These chemicals that affected the plastic feeders could then be present within the human as well.
Plastic Pollution Solutions
If you are a politically active individual, you can surely push your local congress to make tighter laws concerning single-use plastics.
Dozens of cities have already established bans or restrictions on the use of plastic straws in restaurants, and legislators in at least two states, California and Hawaii, have introduced proposals that would restrict their use.
For the rest of us who aren’t into politics but would like to reduce our plastic usage, here are 18 tips to help you out:
- Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel straw or reusable glass straw.
- Use a reusable produce bag. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Purchase or make your own reusable produce bag and be sure to wash them often!
- Give up gum. Gum is made of synthetic rubber, aka plastic.
- Buy boxes instead of bottles. Often, products like laundry detergent come in cardboard which is more easily recycled than plastic.
- Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or airtight glass jars. You save money and unnecessary packaging.
- Reuse containers for storing leftovers or shopping in bulk.
- Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, even when ordering from a to-go shop.
- Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use styrofoam.
- Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invest in a refillable metal lighter.
- Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic. Plus you’ll be eating fewer processed foods!
- Don’t use plasticware at home and be sure to request restaurants do not pack them in your take-out box.
- Ask your local grocer to take your plastic containers (for berries, tomatoes, etc.) back. If you shop at a farmers market they can refill it for you.
- The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money.
- Make fresh-squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It’s healthier and better for the environment.
- Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles of cleaner.
- Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags. Also, opt for fresh fruits and veggies and bulk items instead of products that come in single-serving cups.
- Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.
- Switch to using a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic handle one.
For more helpful information on zero waste living, check out the rest of our Blog!