Planet Plastic: A Problem of Oceanic Proportions and What You Can do to Help
Posted on August 08
As humans we inhabit Earth’s land and have adapted it to meet our complex needs. For the vast majority of us who live in cities and urban areas, it can be easy to live day-to-day without encountering the coastline or sea. But over 70% of Earth’s surface is made up of Oceans – and what for us is a mode of transport, holiday destination or something to admire aesthetically, is in fact home to over 700,000 species. Not only this, but the ocean produces 70% of the oxygen we breath, supporting all living organisms. Our growing use and abuse of plastic products is a major threat to this ecosystem, and is something we must take responsibility for and change if we are to protect and sustain our planet.
Plastic Pollution: How did we get here?
- Every year 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans – that’s estimated to be around 1 truck-load of plastic being emptied into the sea every minute
- As the population grows, plastic production increases – it is estimated that the World doublesits plastic production every decade
- Over 80% of plastic accumulated in the ocean originates from land – mostly plastic bottles and carrier bags that haven’t been recycled
- The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050 there will be as much plastic in the ocean as there is fish
Plastic is a material which is favoured in industry for it’s malleable yet durable qualities – along with how inexpensive it is to produce compared with other materials. Unfortunately, these same qualities are what makes plastic such a problem for our oceans. As it is so durable, plastic produced over 100 years ago remains in our ecosystem. Tiny pieces of microplastic hover on the seabed, mimicking sediment and making it difficult for humans to filter out. This also confuses marine life, often causing them to accidentally ingest plastic. If this cannot be regurgitated, it sits in their stomach indigestible. When enough has collected in the stomach, sea creatures will either die from plastic toxicity or else from starvation, due to the physical inability to eat with a belly full of plastic. A further problem is that marine animals can get physically tangled in larger waste, such as plastic can holders and carrier bags, affecting their mobility and ability to eat - needless to say causing injury and suffering.
Has the damage already been done?
In short, yes. Plastic pollution is an issue which is very prominent in the news and is being widely discussed by organisations such as Greenpeace and the United Nations. A major part of the problem is that whilst such organisations are fighting to clean up the Ocean, the World’s population continues to rise. So, there are more people on the planet and more plastic is produced in parallel with this. Projects setting out to reverse the damage done so far face the challenge of keeping up with the growing use of plastic products, and ensuring they don’t end up in the sea in the first place.
If we continue to produce, use and dispose of plastic at rates which we are currently, the effects will be catastrophic – not only for humans but for marine life, wildlife habitats and the ecosystem itself. Only a fraction of the plastic we use is recycled. The rest ends up either in landfill – where much of the waste is blown into the sea by wind – or dumped directly into the ocean.
Here are some of the worrying recent findings which are likely attributable to plastic in our oceans…
- The Rise of ‘Dead Zones’– areas of the ocean which are hypoxic (lacking oxygen), and so unable to support most marine life, significantly contributed to by human activity, including the production and pollution of plastic in the ocean.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch– an almost cinematic vortex of marine debris, which resulted from the currents of the North Pacific Gyre trapping plastic waste and chemical sludge – estimated to be anywhere between 700,000 and 15,000,000 kilometres in size.
- Seabirds are at threat of extinction– Research has shown that over 90% of seabirds are accidentally ingesting plastics. One study found a 90-day-old chick had died as a result of consuming over 250 pieces of plastic, which were trapped in its stomach until toxicity and damage to internal organs killed the bird. The same study also revealed the difficulty in adult birds feeding their young, as food they gather is littered with microplastics and so hard to regurgitate and feed to their young.
Moving Forward: Putting Plastic in the Past
Plastic pollution is just one of many threats to our Oceans. Overfishing, climate change, whale and shark finning, mercury pollution and ghost fishing also harm our precious waters. Whilst we state the damage has most certainly been done, this does not mean that we cannot try our utmost to rectify this and prevent future damage.
There are many ways in which you as an individual can reduce plastic use, ultimately contributing to the reduction in waste and harmful effects on our oceans. There are over 7 billion humans on this Earth, and if even half of us are conscious of our plastic use we can turn-around the effect it is having on the planet! Here are 3 simple rules to follow to reduce your impact.
- Reuse – whether it’s your morning coffee or the bottle of water you take on a run, invest in a reusable container which you can wash and refill. Many coffee houses now offer an incentive for taking your own coffee cup, as part of their mission to reduce plastic waste. What’s more, did you know that regular plastic bottles should not be refilled with water for hygiene reasons? Just another reason to use a sports bottle instead.
- Recycle – We mentioned earlier that 8 million tons of plastic makes its way into the ocean each year, but the amount actually produced is 300 million tons. By recycling the plastic you do use, you can ensure as little as possible ends up in the sea. Recycling facilities and services are commonplace nowadays, make sure you use them to the best of your ability.
- Reduce – Much of the plastic we use day-to-day is unnecessary and can be replaced with other materials. Charges for supermarket carrier bags have already resulted in an 80 percent drop on plastic bag use in England. This has promoted the public to use their own reusable bags instead. Other products to avoid are cosmetics containing microbeads – such as exfoliators and toothpastes – these remain in the ecosystem for hundreds of years after disposal. Again, there are many alternatives which use natural and non-harmful exfoliants.
Plastic debris in our Oceans is a major environmental threat. The good news is that research and education is enabling us to move forward and not only minimise future impacts on the ecosystem, but also reverse some of the damage done so far. NothingFishy was founded by our founder Caine on the basis of providing a source of Omega-3 that was not only sustainable in itself but also in the way it is packaged. Our highly nutritious Omega-3 is encapsulated in vegan softgels and packaged in a recycled jar that can be reused. We also offer a refill service whereby you can subscribe to receiving an ecobag of Omega-3 capsules to refill your glass jar. These are just some of the ways in which we are aiming to be as environmentally-sound and sustainable as possible, whilst providing a quality and effective nutritional supplement. Visit our website to find out more about the product, and access other blog posts relating to the sustainability of the Ocean.
- Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing. Chris Wilcox, Erik Van Sebille and Britta Denise Hardesty, PNAS August 31, 2015. 201502108; published ahead of print August 31, 2015.
- Forster, K. (2018).The growing threat from plastic pollution to human health.
- Greenpeace USA. (2018) Preventing Ocean Pollution.
- Morishima, R. (2012). Gap opening beyond dead zones by photoevaporation. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 420(4), pp.2851-2858.
- Haward, M. (2018). Plastic pollution of the world’s seas and oceans as a contemporary challenge in ocean governance. Nature Communications, 9(1).