Ocean Pollution: Plastic
The topic that I chose to write about is ocean pollution, specifically plastic. I found a very interesting article by National Geographic that makes me wonder just how much plastic we use daily, and how much it affects marine life. According to the article, the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), comprising twenty-two aquariums in seventeen different states is pushing a campaign called “No Straw November”. The campaign is a push to eliminate single-use plastic including plastic straws, bottles, and plastic in general.
The Aquarium Conservation Partnership is making five hundred businesses to commit to only serving plastic straws upon request. The ACP has already worked with large businesses like United Airlines, the Chicago White Sox, and Dignity Health hospitals. The “No Straw November” campaign is also lobbying cities and regional governments to pass ordinances that encourage businesses to use fewer plastic straws. People are also being asked to sign an online agreement to limit their own personal single-use plastic. The reason I picked this specific article is because coming from a large marine biology family, I hear horror stories of creatures being trapped in plastic, swallowing plastic, and being killed by plastic. Me and my family have already taken a step in the right direction by making sure to recycle not only our plastic but metals and other harmful environmental materials. It really makes me wonder just how much plastic humans use a day, including me, without even thinking about it.
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Plastic is used because it is easy and cheap to make and they can last a long time. Unfortunately these qualities make plastic a huge pollution problem. Only because plastic is cheap, it gets discarded easily and does great harm to our environment. Urbanization has added to the plastic pollution in cities. Plastic that is littered can enter drainage lines, go out to the ocean, and choke sea creatures. As most people know, plastic does not decompose and requires a lot to break down. The amount of plastic waste in our oceans is increasing at a very fast rate. The plastic found on beaches come from use on land such as packaging material used to wrap goods. On rural beaches the rubbish have come from ships, such as fishing equipment used in the fishing industry, which I will explain later. This plastic can affect marine wildlife in two important ways. One, by entangling creatures, and two, by being eaten. Turtles and fish are badly affected by plastic pollution, and our turtle species are already either endangered or threatened by endangerment. Turtles get entangled in fishing nets, and many sea turtles have been found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs.
This subject is very concerning to me and I believe that it is very newsworthy. How often on the news do you hear about ocean pollution? The Great Barrier Reef is practically overflowed with trash right now and I haven’t heard one major news outlet report on it. Most news stations nowadays report on politics and that’s about it. You never hear about environmental issues anymore. If you do, it’s rare. I believe that a good first step on fixing this issue is to raise much more awareness on what is happening to our oceans. Poorer countries leave their trash in the streets because they have nowhere to put it. If we realized that we could help them with this issue, we could reduce the levels of trash that is being drifted out into the ocean by a large amount.
As I previously stated, some problems that the ocean faces include commercial fishing. It is necessity for many parts of the world, and a lot of people eat fish for their survival however the fishing industry has helped contribute to the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans in several ways. The nets that they use for large-scale fishing operations are made of plastic. The nets spend long times submerged in water, which are leaking toxins but they also get broken up or lost, left to remain wherever they fall on the ocean floor. This not only kills and harms ocean wildlife, but also ensures that pollutants enter the water and fish of the area.
Another problem that we face is that over the past fifty years, the world’s plastic production has doubled. Plastic manufacturers are planning to increase production by a third over the next five years. Back in 1970’s, the average plastic consumption was 2kg. Today, average plastic consumption has increased to 43kg. I believe that this is taking plastic in the wrong direction. Alternatives to non degradable plastics have to be worked out and the industries responsible for the major plastic must be attacked with specific agreements and liability arrangements. They need to be met with requirements for reuse of waste and broken plastic equipment. Most of the plastics used today are produced from oil, and are a source of pollution. For a simple yet great solution, governments need to implement a tax or fee on polluting plastics. The fees must be changed so that recycled plastic becomes cheaper than fossil.
Sadly, around eighty percent of plastic in the ocean has come from activities and industrial companies on land. This can include everything from car tires, sports equipment, clothing, cigarette butts (which contain very harmful chemicals) and cotton. Everyone can and should contribute to the solution. For example, you can participate in clean-up operations, cut your own plastic consumption like my family and I, and always pick up any trash you find along your way whether at the beach or walking along a riverbed.
Although plastic does have its bad side, it also has its good uses. It is hard to not use plastic as it is the leading resource that is used in packaging, and housing. It is both lightweight and durable and can be used for major things like winterizing homes. Almost all major mailing companies use plastic because of its light weight and it being very transportable. Plastic is also very commonly used in the medical field including uses of feeding tubes and pill bottles. It’s hard to argue that plastic does not have its good uses, because it does, but it also has its bad. I believe that if states implemented laws that made people recycle their plastic, we would see a lot less of it in the ocean and make the world an even more clean and beautiful place.