The solutions to plastic pollution are one of the most discussed environmental issues of our time. Plastic bottles, straws and fishing gear amass onto our beaches, providing a distressing and memorable spectacle. The solutions seem obvious: if we don’t use and throw away single-use plastics, the issue won’t persist. But how realistic is this? Plastic is a revolutionary material that has helped form the modern world we know today. Before its creation, humans relied on materials such as paper, wood, metal and glass to suit our needs. In the space of only 150 years, plastic has replaced many of these materials due its cheap and fast manufacturing capabilities, hygienic qualities and endless malleable potential; we can make it into anything we desire. It dominates the majority of our food, drinks and personal hygiene products. Its avoidance will be difficult. But not impossible.
How Does Plastic Enter The Ocean?
“It is estimated that land-based sources are responsible for up to 80% of marine debris. About 65 % of this, or essentially half of all found in the ocean, comes from consumer used plastics that have not been disposed of properly— Algalita Marine Research Foundation
Beach littering plays a large part in oceanic plastic pollution. So does discarded fishing gear and waste thrown overboard by boats. But the majority of marine pollution doesn’t originate from sources in close proximity to the water – it comes from inland. Most plastic ends up in the ocean from inland sources, including rivers, streams and creeks. When it rains, the rainwater washes the dirt from our streets and sidewalks and flows down storm drains, taking everything with it. Food wrappers, cigarette butts and bottle caps are washed down the drains and head straight into local waterways, into the ocean.
How Does Plastic Affect The Ocean?
Plastics take hundreds of years to degrade in marine conditions. After entering the ocean, they slowly break down into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming micro-plastics and even nano-plastics. These tiny plastic particles are a serious threat to ecosystems and human health because of their ability to absorb and concentrate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other harmful toxins. Plastics have been found to continue absorbing these toxins even after 3.5 years.
Micro-plastics are being mistaken by marine mammals and fish for food. They’re even being eaten by plankton, which are the foundation of the marine food chain and eaten by all marine life. This is causing a dangerous process called biomagnification: harmful chemicals accumulate up the food chain, causing the top predators of the ocean (such as sharks and whales) to store the high concentrations of plastic and toxic chemicals in their bodies. As fish eaters ourselves, we aren’t exempt from this, either.
What Are The Solutions To Plastic Pollution?
Plastic is all around us. Take a look around you right now – how many things contain plastic? Your clothes (polyester), your phone (polycarbonate resin), even your glasses nosepiece or hair tie (silicone) are made of the stuff. And that’s just on you. It doesn’t just make up the obvious items like straws and water bottles; it’s in our cars and even our face scrubs. If it’s all around us, where do we start?
Stand Up To The Companies Creating The Issue
Consumers aren’t wholly responsible for the plastic crisis. Those funding, manufacturing and profiting from the production of plastic are at the heart of the issue. Whilst we say no to straws, opt for reusable bottles and avoid unnecessary packaging in grocery stores, single-use plastics are still being produced. There is only so much that we as consumers can do through personal actions to help the situation. We need to go beyond complacency for alternatives and strike the issue at the core.
The #IsThisYours tag, initiated by Greenpeace, aims to spread awareness to both the instagram community and the polluting brands that consumers no longer want their plastics. Take a photo of any plastic you find, use the hashtag #IsThisYours and tag the named brand. You could also write to the companies responsible, email your local politician about your concerns, support plastic bans, and most importantly, use the power of your vote.
Let’s take a look at the most commonly found items in the ocean, from the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup day from the Ocean Conservancy. Single-use plastics are contributing to the majority of oceanic pollution we find today due to their disposable nature.
Top 10 Plastic Items In The Ocean In 2018
- Cigarette Butts
- Food Wrappers
- Plastic Drink Bottles
- Plastic Bottle Caps
- Plastic Grocery Bags
- Other Plastic Bags
- Straws and Stirrers
- Plastic Take Out Containers
- Plastic Lids
- Foam Take Out Containers
All of these items are designed to be used once, and thrown away. But they will remain in the environment for centuries to come. If you’re feeling a twinge of guilt at the fact that your groceries are currently sitting in a plastic bag, or your take-out last night came in more plastic boxes than you could build a house with – don’t worry. We’re all guilty of using a number of these items on a daily basis, sometimes even the most environmentally conscious of us. At the level of convenience that single-use plastic offers us, sometimes practicality wins us over and we grab that plastic bottle of water with a dry mouth and guilty heart.
How Can I Avoid Plastic In My Daily Life?
- Carry a reusable water bottle – and fill it. Sometimes drinking water taps aren’t always nearby, so make sure to fill your bottle before setting out to avoid buying bottled water.
- Store some cloth bags in your home, handbag and car. Cotton and linen bags are friendly alternatives to plastic grocery bags – but make sure you always have them around. One in the car, one at home, one in your day bag, so you can’t forget one.
- Stub your cigarette butts in designated cigarette bins. Cigarette filters contain both plastic and harmful carcinogens, which can be devastating for marine life. By using designated cigarette bins, we can avoid filters being swept away into drain systems and out into the ocean.
- Refuse single-use cups, utensils, and containers. If you’re feeling like take-out, inform the restaurant that you don’t want your food to come in plastic boxes. Try and bring your own tupperware, or ask for any alternatives.
- Avoid plastic packaging by buying in bulk The more items you buy wrapped in plastic, the more plastic packaging you’ll have. Reduce your amount by buying in bulk, or bringing your own glass jars to refill stations in your local supermarket.
Join a Beach Clean
We host cleanups at Vancouver’s local beaches. Beach cleanups are free to attend and open to everyone, and you’ll be removing plastics from the shoreline that would otherwise end up back in the ocean.