Climate change and plastic pollution may not be top of mind right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, but the truth is, we are using more disposable plastic than ever: PPE, portable hand sanitizers in plastic containers, masks, gloves and more. There is plenty that we can do--by taking steps both small and large--to lessen the impact of ocean plastic pollution on the ocean environment around the world and the wildlife that live there without sacrificing our health and safety during these trying times.
According to Ocean Crusader, an Australian-based nonprofit whose mission is to educate the world about ocean plastic pollution and inspire people to get out and clean up, it is now believed that there are about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea. Meanwhile, shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year, though cities like New York are restricting the use of plastic bags and charging for them in an effort to discourage their use. According to Drawdown: The Most Coprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by environmentalist Paul Hawken, “Globally we produce 310 million tons of plastic each year. That is 83 pounds per person, and plastic production is expected to quadruple by 2050.”
This translates to about a million bags every minute across the globe. And that number is rising. Meanwhile, approximately 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement, and these are the ones that are found. Many are not.
Ironically, plastic bags are the ultimate renewable resource. They take forever to break up--into smaller pieces called microplastics--and they really don’t break down. A plastic bag can kill numerous animals because it takes so long to disintegrate. For example, an animal that dies from ingesting a plastic bag will decompose, the bag will be released and another animal could fall victim by eating the same bag. According to Ocean Crusader, there are believed to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean. There are five ocean gyres in the world where plastic gathers due to current circulation. These gyres contain millions of pieces of plastic and our wildlife--albatross, turtles, fish--feed in these grounds. The situation is dire. At least two thirds of the world’s fish stocks are suffering from plastic ingestion. Ocean acidification is a growing problem. And scientists have identified 200 areas declared as “dead zones” where no life organisms can now grow.
But there is still plenty that we all can do. Carry a reusable bag wherever you go. Reuse and recycle any plastic containers that come with your groceries. Participate in a cleanup. Purchase reusable food storage containers and lunch boxes. Avoid plastic water bottles. According to Sandra Harris, founder of ECOLunchbox, plastic has been known to leach harmful chemicals such as BPA and BPS, as well as microplastics, into the food or beverage it is holding. “A study done last year tested 250 water bottles from 11 brands and discovered more than 90 percent of the samples contained microplastic particles,” says Harris. “While we do not know the full eﬀects of what consuming microplastics will do to our bodies, we can try to avoid it as much as we can.”
Say no to plastic straws, and invest in a stainless steel version that you carry with you. If you purchase straws, look for corn- or bamboo-derived versions. Avoid using plastic bags and plastic bottles.
Every small change that we make adds up to a big impact on the environment. No change is too small!