An Ocean Crisis: Plastic in Our Oceans

Each day millions of people purchase drinks from a grocery or convenience store which come in plastic bottles. We may not realize it at the time, but we are affecting our oceans with this plastic. Have you ever walked along the beach or been swimming in the ocean and noticed a piece of trash? Whether a plastic straw or grocery bag, it is making an impact, but not a good one. According to Plastic Oceans1, “more than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year”. This means not only are we polluting the largest part of our world, but we are also affecting the animals living there.

The Container Recycling Institute1 states, “100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2014 which equals out to 315 bottles a person”. Most plastic is created for one time use, including bottles, plastic can rings, cups, dishware and grocery bags. Grocery bags are a big culprit of litter in the oceans. Not only do they end up in the oceans, but they can harm marine life as well if they get tangled up with them.

According to One Green Planet2, “roughly 100 million marine animals are killed from plastic pollution each year.” This includes sea turtles, seals, sea lions, seabirds, fish, whales and dolphins. Research shows when fish and seabirds are looking for food they mistake trash and plastic for food. The debris they eat is too large and destructive to work through their digestive system and they end up dying. Smaller marine life can also get in trouble, if they get stuck in plastic bags and can rings. Sea turtles are often harmed by eating what they think is food, but turns out to be a plastic bag.

Not only do we have to worry about large pieces of trash, but micro-plastic fibers are also a big problem in oceans. There are two types of micrco-plastic. Primary micro-plastic are deliberately manufactured to be used in exfoliates such as facial scrubs as well as scrubbers used to clean machinery and boat hulls. Secondary micro-plastics are found in containers, bags, clothing and commercial fishing line which find their way into the ocean. Over a long period of time, the sunlight breaks these materials into small pieces. Marine life then eats the micro-plastic which leads to their death.

One company which decided to make a change to help preserve our marine life is Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida. They wanted to protect our oceans and the life within them so at a higher production cost (which is passed on to the consumer) they decided to make edible rings for their cans of beer which are safe for both fish and humans to consume3. Their goal is to encourage other companies to try the same process in the hope of saving the oceans and maybe bring down production costs.

The garbage which sits in the oceans can also make its destructive way back to humans. According to Geology and Human Health4, “Not only do the toxins in plastic effect the ocean, but acting like sponges, they soak up other toxins from outside sources before entering the ocean. As these chemicals are ingested by animals in the ocean, this is not good for humans. We as humans ingest contaminated fish and mammals”. Plastic is linked to birth defects, cancer, developmental issues, and problems within the immune system.

Another way in which plastic pollution in the oceans affects us is within our economy. Beach cleanups are expensive and time consuming. While it takes many volunteers and hours throughout the day, beach cleanups are successful. If beaches are not cleaned up in time, however, it cuts back the number of visiting tourists affecting local businesses who thrive on the money generated from tourism.

There are many ways to avoid using plastic and to protect our oceans. Some plastic alternatives include non-plastic, reusable dishes and bags. Glass and aluminum bottles are a better alternative for plastic. Making these simple changes will cut back on the extra plastic bottles and bags you have laying around and will eliminate them from the landfills and oceans. If for some reason you must use plastic, make sure to recycle and clean up after yourself. If you ever find yourself by the water and you notice trash, clean it up to help even a small amount of plastic from entering the oceans.

                                     

Written by Melissa Clancy

Edited by Bob Stone

Infographic by Jim Fournier

 

References:

Plastic Oceans Film
One Green Planet
Huffington Post
Geology & Human Health: Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health