“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” Jacques-Yves Cousteau, French explorer.
Recently, people all over the world have started reducing their consumption of plastic as awareness of the dangers that it poses to our oceans and environment has risen. Nevertheless, there remain people who are unaware of how much plastic ends up in the ocean, and why this is so problematic.
Although plastic makes modern life convenient, this must be considered in relation to the damage it can cause to the ocean’s ecosystem. The problem with plastics is that they do not degrade easily; in fact, it might take hundreds of years to degrade completely.
Plastic products may break down in smaller pieces but the smaller they get the more places they can travel. Many pieces end up in our oceans, affecting sea life and polluting the water. As a matter of fact, currently our oceans contain more than 51 trillion pieces of microplastic. To put that number into perspective, every single minute the equivalent of an entire bin lorry of plastic is being dumped into our waters.
According to data from Science Advances, the global production of plastic fibres has risen from 2 million tons in 1950 to 380 million in 2015. Nowadays plastic is such a big part of our daily life that it is difficult to think of one object that does not contain polymers.
But why exactly is it dangerous?
The main concern, as explained above, is that plastic does not decompose very easily, but this is not the only reason.
Plastic is highly noxious to many species, and over 260 species ingest it mistaking it for food - for example, plastic bags floating in the water can be mistaken for jellyfish. Animals can also end up entangled in plastic, which will prevent them from moving or cause lacerations and death.
As if the damage caused to wildlife and environment is not enough, there is a high chance that the seafood meal you like to enjoy also contains traces of plastic, which may release toxic chemicals, exposure to which might cause cancers.
In addition, most of the plastic is single use only. 50% of it is used once and then thrown away - this can include straws, plastic bags, and food packaging. It needn’t take a significant effort to decrease our plastic consumption. Measures such as bringing your own shopping bags, saying no to plastic straws, carrying your own reusable bottle, trying to avoid excessive food packaging, and avoiding disposable cutlery can all contribute to a healthier relationship with our environment.
Unfortunately, there is not yet a complete solution to the plastic issue, but small changes of habit could make a big difference. It is now time to replace convenience with more sustainable choices and start respecting our planet before we end up with more plastic than fish in our oceans.