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One of the most popular and impactful videos on the internet has been the one with the sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. It gave the viewers a first-hand glance into where their plastic trash was actually going and how it affected other living beings. Seeing the agony of the turtle, watching the plastic straw being pulled out of this nose and a stream of blood flowing, it really put all of our actions into perspective.
Here’s the shocking news – Think about this, the first piece of plastic ever created is still existing on this planet. Since plastic is non-biodegradable, that is it does not break down and disintegrate, it manages to stay on the planet forever. While most people think that it can disintegrate with time (700-800 years), the fact of the matter is that even when it does “disintegrate”, it only breaks into microplastics. Microplastics are even worse because you cannot see them and they manage to seep into the water, soil and even our food.
The majority of our trash ends up in the oceans. Most of this trash is plastic waste because biodegradable trash still has a way of managing itself. But what exactly happens to the plastic in the ocean? How does this plastic impact life in the ocean? If you want to know the answers to these questions, read on!
As we all know, plastic is not biodegradable. When plastic is not being put into landfills and being incinerated and recycled, it ends up in the oceans. According to a survey and a study conducted by a scientific journal in 2015, each year about 4.8 to 12.7 tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean. Each year! You can only imagine what the cumulative effect of these numbers will be!
Some of the plastic entering the oceans can be large and visible to the naked eye, but a lot of it also ends up being microplastics. These microplastics are a result of the beauty and cosmetic industry, as well as the breaking down of plastics into smaller parts. These microplastics end up being consumed by a lot of marine life, ultimately causing them a premature and unfortunate death. This incredible damage caused through the years has caused a lot of serious issues like high levels of contamination in the deep-sea sediments.
Another shocking study conducted in 2014 by Dr. Lucy Woodall exposed that about 4 billion microscopic (invisible to the naked eye) plastic fibers and microplastics cover one square kilometer of the deep sea all over the world. These numbers are truly shocking and we all must take action to fix this issue. Although a lot of it seems like damage that has already been done, our actions even today have the ability to stop the damage and make a difference. It is estimated that about 150 million metric tons of plastic is what is being currently circulated in all of our marine environments combined.
To put things in perspective, think about a truck that collects all of the waste of New York City and it is dumped into the ocean every minute of every single day. Imagine that this goes on for an entire year, this is the gravity of damage we humans have managed to cause to the environment and marine life. The amount of plastic being dumped into our oceans is directly proportional to our plastic consumption. Think of every packet of cookies you have purchased – it has still managed to be intact or broken up into tiny pieces but nevertheless present in our environment. And if these numbers don’t shock you, it is estimated that these figures are mostly going to double in the next ten years or so.
Believe it or not, the plastic in the ocean that you see pictures of is the same plastic that we use in our daily lives. The plastic straw that you use as a restaurant to have your milkshake is the same straw that was stuck in that poor turtle’s nose. It is very easy to see plastic in the ocean and feel detached to the cause, but when this realization sets in that each and every action of consumption results in marine life and the general health of the ocean suffering, then it becomes second nature to question everything. Making people realize this is extremely important. If this connection is not made, then the plastic waste in our oceans will just keep increasing as time goes by.
There are three main sources plastic in the ocean comes from –
When you miss throwing a piece of plastic into the recycle bin, it gets picked up and thrown into a landfill. On the way to the landfill, these pieces of plastic may fly away and ultimately end up in water bodies. These plastic pieces end up trashing oceans in the long run.
Just like how plastic on the way to the landfill ends up flying into water bodies, when one litters and throws trash around carelessly, the plastic can end up in streams, in drains that eventually lead to the ocean. It is important to teach children to not litter and also for the adults to follow through because kids ultimately learn from their parents.
There are many cosmetic and beauty products that get flushed down the drain every single day like wet wipes, sanitary products, and even cosmetic products with microplastics for exfoliation. These products, with time, end up releasing plastic microfibers that can really affect, harm and even kill marine life. Fish end up eating these microplastics, and when we eat the same fish, we too end up getting involved in this harmful plastic cycle. If not for marine life and the oceans, it is important that we consider the use of single-use plastics for our own sake.
Most of us have seen those heartbreaking images of animals suffering as a consequence of human greed and convenience. Most of us also forget about these issues once the image is moved away from our sight. But it is important for us to not be so anthropocentric at all times and also respect other forms of life, including marine life. A study has shown that about 700 species of marine animals have been suffering thanks to all the plastic trash we generate and discharge into the oceans. Another shocking statistic is that a minimum of 100 million marine mammals die every single year as a result of plastic pollution in the ocean. Sea turtles, seals, sea lions, seabirds, fish, whales, and dolphins have been among the worst affected marine species.
In conclusion, we need to keep reminding ourselves that each and every action of ours has a consequence. When we become aware of our actions, we become empowered with the knowledge to act more consciously and reduce your harmful impact. With this knowledge and awareness, we can also spread the word and let others around us know about the atrocities the ocean and its beings have to face all because of human negligence.
Plastic Collectors is a collective of people who are dedicated and thoroughly involved in the vision of having plastic-free oceans. Having established a network of people all around the world, and work on removing plastic waste from oceans as well as land. All the plastic collected goes to plastic recycling centers and ultimately gets saved from entering landfills. By allowing the Plastic Collectors to sell and get monetary rewards for the plastic waste they have collected, it pushes people to do their bit and continue making a difference. Click here to know how you can make a difference.