We are destroying our oceans. According to the Oceanic Society, every day roughly 13,000 to 15,000 pieces of plastic are being dumped into our oceans. There are currently 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, and this number will keep rising unless a major change is made. At the current rate, scientists estimate that plastic will outweigh fish by the year 2050.
A survey from National Geographic found there are an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean. Roughly 269,000 tons of this plastic floats on the surface of the ocean. An area known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is a collection of plastics in the water between California and Hawaii; 1.6 million square kilometers of ocean has accumulated 800,000 million tons of plastic. This is equivalent to almost the size of the state of Alaska.
An article from Independent states that it can take up to 1,000 years for plastic to break down. During this process, plastic gets broken up into smaller pieces, called microplastic. Microplastics are accumulating rapidly. These small fragments fill our oceans and are being ingested by marine animals. At least two-thirds of the world’s fish are harmed from plastic ingestion. Large marine animals are harmed the most from plastic, as they consume larger pieces of plastic, causing them to choke or starve to death. Since it takes such a long time for plastic to get broken down, the same pieces of plastic have the potential to kill multiple animals.
Another danger to marine animals is microbeads. Microbeads are found in many common household items such as face soaps, body washes, and even toothpaste. These small pieces of plastic get washed down the drain and enter the oceans from the sewer systems.
A major contributor to plastic pollution is single-use plastic products such as water bottles and plastic grocery bags. There are roughly 500 billion single-use plastic bags being utilized annually, and this number keeps increasing. This translates to about 150 plastic bags for every person in the world. These plastic bags are extremely harmful to marine animals, as an estimated 100,000 marine animals and nearly 21 million sea birds are killed annually from plastic entanglement, according to National Geographic.
Not only are animals affected by plastic pollution, but humans are also harmed. Humans ingest plastics by consuming seafood. A study from the UK has recently shown that 100 percent of the mussels sampled contained pieces of microplastic. Pieces of microplastics have also shown up in drinking water and other food sources. Once plastic breaks down, it also releases toxins into the water and the air. When found in humans, these chemicals disrupt the endocrine system. Children and pregnant women are the most at risk. People who eat seafood can consume roughly 11,000 pieces of microplastic annually.
We are at the precipice of disaster. Scientists from National Geographic state that the amount of plastic in the ocean could triple by 2020 if we do not prevent plastic from reaching the ocean. This problem is preventable, however. There are many easy ways for everyone to help combat plastic pollution. One way is to reduce the use of single-use plastics, such as plastic grocery bags, water bottles, and straws. Cloth grocery bags are a great alternative to using plastic bags. Use a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic bottles and avoid using plastic straws if you do not need them. Since we cannot completely avoid plastic, it is important to properly recycle what is produced.
Currently, less than one-fifth of all plastic used gets recycled, but that could easily change. It is also important to avoid using products that contain microbeads. Check the ingredients of your cosmetic products and avoid using products with polyethylene and polypropylene.
Volunteers are always needed for local efforts such as beach cleanups; you don’t have to join an organization’s clean up event — take a walk and pick up plastic in your community. By just throwing away a few pieces of litter or recycling can make a positive impact to the environment. If volunteering is not appealing, you can donate money to many organizations that are working to reduce plastic pollutions. The Oceanic Society, Plastic Pollution Coalition, 5 Gyres, Algalita, Plastic Soup Foundation are some organizations you can support.
This is a fight we must win. Without our oceans, the world will surely perish.