Plastic Pollution

ocean plastic

Plastic Pollution has become a man-made global catastrophe

The proliferation of plastic products  has resulted in an increase in production from around 50 million tonnes in 1950 to 245 million tonnes in 2008 (Plastics Europe) [1]

To get that into terms you can understand, every two years we make enough plastic to be the equivalent of the weight of the 7 billion people on earth. [2] About half of this will be used just once then thrown away.

Annually, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute. A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes.

The vast majority of plastic waste is destined for landfill sites which limits aspects of the environmental impact through ‘containment’ however this does not solve all the problems. [1]

Nearly three percent of world production is dumped into the ocean. [2]  Plastic accounts for around 10% of the total waste we generate. ]1]

In 1997, the U.S. Academy of Sciences estimated the total input of marine litter into the oceans, worldwide, at approximately 6.4 million tons per year.    U.N.Environmental Program.[3]

The 5 Gyres instit5 gyresute, along with their collaborators at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, have discovered plastic pollution in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Indian Ocean.

In 2010, scientists sailed 4,100 miles from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, South Africa, collecting 67 samples from the ocean’s surface. “Every sample contained small fragments of plastic.” 

The plastic “trash island” the size of Texas, mentioned in the media is a myth. The reality is much worse. The garbage patches observed are highly diffuse, perhaps a little more than a handful of plastic particles scattered over a football field (around 5,000 square metres in America). Yet, there are 315 million-square kilometres of ocean on the world’s surface, so there are billions of these football fields. [4]

That’s a lot of plastic quietly changing the consistency of our oceans because the really scary thing is that plastic is not biodegradable.  It just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller bits, ultimately polymers.

no matter how small

The oceans become a soup, it becomes impossible for marine life to avoid ingesting plastic. Plastics  enter the food chain and release chemicals into the fish that eat them (Zarfl & Matthies, 2010).  Other animals are similarly  affected . Over 100 species of sea birds are known to ingest plastic artefacts (Laist, 1997)  and 31 species of marine mammals are know to have ingested marine plastic (Allsopp et al).[1]

Whether the animals have consumed small particles of plastic or smaller animals that have eaten plastic, the plastic has entered the food chain and inevitably ends up on the table of the animal at the top of the list; mankind.

To make this even worse, because of the chemical structure of plastic, as it breaks down plastic becomes a sponge to the many toxic chemicals that find their way into the oceans. (Kosier, 2010) [3]  Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)  like DDT and pesticides are being found in concentrations on marine plastics in several orders of magnitude higher than they are free in the water (Thompson, 2010).  These same POPs have been associated with numerous detrimental health conditions:

  1. Cancer (Wang et al. 2009,WWF 1999, Ociepa-Zawal et al. 2010, Purdue et al. 2009, McGlynn et al. 2008)
  2. Diabetes (Ruzzin et al. 2010, Lee 2008, Carpenter 2008)
  3. Low sperm count (WWF 1999)
  4. Altered immune systems (WWF 1999, Hertz-Picciotto 2008)
  5. Genital defects (WWF 1999)
  6. Endocrine disruptors (Cao et al. 2008, Han et al. 2010, Goncharov et al. 2009, Tan et al. 2009)
  7. Rheumatoid arthritis (Lee et al. 2007)
  8. Endometriosis (Porpora et al. 2009)
  9. Low birth weights (Murphy et al., 2010)
  10. Developmental problems in children:
  11. Lowered IQ (Jacobson and Jacobson 1996, Park et al. 2009)
  12. Lowered reading ages (Jacobson and Jacobson 1996)
  13. Affected social skills (Jacobson and Jacobson 1996)
  14. Behavioural problems (WWF 1999)
  15. Memory and attention problems (WWF 1999, Jacobson and Jacobson)

And another point: the production of plastic uses an incredible amount of fossil fuel. Most estimates put the figure at around 8% of the world’s oil production – which equates to the amount used by the whole of Africa. Fossil fuels are a finite resource. It seems absurd that we simply throw away products that are made from/with petroleum. [1]

Cleaning up the ocean would require each man, woman and child on our planet, to be responsible for 100,000 truckloads of water. [3] Practical solutions must begin on land with improved recovery systems, re-use programs and the recognition that we are changing our environment as we subject our planet to a tidal wave of plastic waste. … Plastic is cheap and incredibly versatile with properties that make it ideal for many applications.  However, these qualities have also resulted in the development of a ‘disposable’ lifestyle. Plastic is a valuable resource and plastic pollution is an unnecessary and unsustainable waste that causes irreparable damage to our earth. [1]

 Map shows plastic debris in surface water of world's oceans. Created in-house by Jamie Hawk (Ryan Morris).

Image above: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140715-ocean-plastic-debris-trash-pacific-garbage-patch/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=link_fb20140717news-oc    (July 15th, 2014)

 

1http://www.plasticoceans.net/the-facts/what-a-waste/ (2010)

2http://www.voanews.com/content/plastics-in-oceans-more-damaging-than-climate-change–133190248/169699.html (November 2nd, 2011)

3. quote from http://www.upworthy.com/they-left-los-angeles-and-sailed-for-7-days-to-find-an-island-of-garbage-heres-what-they-found?c=reccon3

4. http://summitcountyvoice.com/2010/12/10/new-garbage-gyre-found-in-south-atlantic-ocean/   (December 10th, 2012)

TAKE YOUR OWN BAGS AND CONTAINERS TO MARKETS/SUPERMARKETS AND DELICATESSENS. (not all of them will allow you to use them, but ask … let them know of your concern)

WASH ANY PLASTIC BAGS YOU DO GET AND RE-USE THEM AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE

CHECK EVERY PIECE OF PLASTIC (PACKAGING) THAT COMES INTO YOUR HOUSE AND RE-CYCLE EVERY ONE THAT SHOWS THE RE-CYCLING LOGO.

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