Our oceans are suffering from plastic pollution, and we’ve allowed it to stretch this far. We have opened the doors to a global crisis that continues to flourish. In order for the global amount of plastic ocean pollution to be reduced, the public must strive for change by coming up with solutions such as: placing fines on plastic products, banning specific plastic products, recycling, and creating more public awareness. Since the early 1950’s, the production and distribution of plastic has drastically boosted.
Because it was certainly flexible, sturdy, and very inexpensive to produce, plastic has replaced many other materials such as paper, styrofoam, wood, and metal. However, most plastic producers weren’t aware of the fact that plastic is forever. It will never completely vanish… at least for another 500 years. Rather than degrading and completely dissolving, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces known as microplastics: the worst form of plastic pollution. Tiny, microscopic pieces of toxin-filled plastic are mixed in with our ocean’s ecosystem, being consumed by living organisms. The pieces being so little only makes them deadlier.
Today, almost every minor to major company around the world utilizes and distributes plastic for their business, whether it be straws, cups, lids, bags, food containers, or shipping packages, almost all items used by companies are plastic products. Each day, sickening amounts of single-use plastics are being distributed and a majority of the pollution won’t be properly recycled, finding its way to the ocean.
All marine organisms from colossal blue whales to microscopic plankton are negatively affected by plastic pollution. In one year, at least 267 different kinds of species will have suffered from either entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris, leaving a grand total of 100,000 affected animals in one year (Le Guern). If the issue of plastic pollution continues to flourish, so will the endangerment of marine species. Not only are ocean animals suffering from plastic consumption, but land animals as well.
Many seabirds dive into the ocean hunting for food, but instead receive a mouthful of tiny plastic bits that end up in their stomachs and kill them from the inside out. Plastic pieces, big and small are also washed up on beaches, scattering trash from one coast to another, allowing easy access for other land animals to prey on. Not many people question this, but what will happen when humans consume the fish that already contain plastic? At this rate, plastic could very well become a part of our food chain and could very well negatively affect the life of humans within the next ten years. The amount of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean is drastically accumulating in all parts of the world, causing extensive effects that aren’t going to diminish until something is done.
As a global community, we can put in our best efforts and stabilize the issue, but in order for this to happen, we must strive for change by coming up with solutions such as: placing fines on plastic products, banning specific plastic products, recycling, and creating more public awareness. Abandoned plastic fishing nets also serve a big role in plastic ocean pollution. Fishermen all over the world use plastic fishing nets that can stretch longer than two miles. When their work is finished, some of them decide to discard of the nets in the middle of the ocean, or leave them behind to serve as a death trap for creatures such as turtles, dolphins and other large fish. The nets don’t stay in one spot of course.
Ocean tides cause the nets to be strung all around the ocean floor, trapping marine animals and other bits of trash along the way, as well as breaking large pieces of coral off of their reefs: a home to many other smaller sea animals. Like stated earlier, plastic is forever. These nets aren’t just going to disappear in their own. Who knows how long they’ll be dragging along the ocean floor, growing bigger and deadlier. One considerable solution that has been brought up is placing a ban on certain plastic products. Countries all around the world such as Europe and North America are putting plastic bans on just one type of plastic: straws. Studies show that consumers in the United States throw away at least 500 million straws, daily.
A number of major companies such as Starbucks, American Airlines, Ikea, and Whole Foods have pledged to ditch plastic and eliminate the use of plastic bags or straws in their stores. Sara Watson, author of the article, “Last Straw for Plastic Straws? Cities, Restaurants Move to Top these Sippers” from National Public Radio is aware of the call to get rid of plastic straws in our food systems. The thought of this idea comes from single-use plastics that are thrown out by consumers after only being used one time, leading to environmental issues. “In 2014 alone, Americans tossed out more than 33 million tons of plastic, that vast majority was not recycled” (Watson).
Out of those 33 million tons of plastic, over half of it was more than likely thrown in the ocean. Watson also states that according to Better Alternatives Now, straws make up more than 7 percent of plastic particles found in the environment, let alone the oceans. Banning the use of plastic straws is something that can drastically improve the environment’s health without having a major impact on our everyday lives. Not having a straw to drink a fountain pop or iced coffee can be a very minor inconvenience, but it’s something that mostly everyone is capable of doing. Banning the plastic straw is a small step to advocate change. Not only does banning plastic straws have an effect on the environment, but it acts as a chain reaction.
Not having access to plastic leads to other alternatives for straws such as wood, paper, metal, glass, or in some cases for restaurants… pasta. If we can find alternatives for something as simple as a plastic straw, we can find alternatives for bigger plastic items. One idea leads to another as a chain reaction and if people are willing to promote the change that needs to occur, then the ocean environment will finally be in good hands. Many state legislatures have thought through the idea of reducing the use of plastic bags in many businesses and companies (State Plastic and Paper Bag Legislation).
This method simply works to discourage consumers to use plastic bags and instead encourage them to invest in reusable bags of their own. Although the fee per bag would only be a small amount of somewhere between five to ten cents, it’s still an inconvenience for the customer, especially if they’re buying multiple items. Small amounts of money add up, and the last thing a customer wants to do is pay for something they’re only going to use once. It serves as a reminder for people to remember their reusable bags. In 2017, Israel demanded their stored to charge 3 cents for each plastic bag purchased.
Since then, the county’s plastic bag use has dropped 80 percent. “That 80 percent reduction is equal to 8,000 tons of plastic” (Bender). The ideas and actions of Israel has spread across the globe to other countries including America. A total of 6 states in the United States have placed fees on plastic bags. If every single country in the world used the same method as Israel, imagine the positive outcomes.
We would hopefully begin to see a extraordinary downfall in plastic grocery and take out bags in the oceans and beaches along every coast. By increasing fees for plastic bag use, plastic consumers will be motivated not only to avoid using them, but to find other options such as reusable bags. Israel proved that it’s possible, so can the remaining population. Although plastic bans would leave a positive impact on the environment, there are going to be people that will disagree and disapprove plastic bans. Many people and companies will argue that plastic is too valuable to ban.
Plastic is indeed valuable. It’s cheap to produce and provides consumers with easy access. However, didn’t we survive way before plastic was even invented? We lived without it for so long and we can do it again. Taking away plastic straws or plastic bags will only serve the smallest of inconveniences. It’s certainly something we’re capable of. David M. Perry, author of article, “Banning Straws Won’t Save the Ocean,” from Pacific Standard states that rather than “shaming” consumers for using plastic, we just need to hold them financially responsible for their pollution.
There are numerous kinds of other single-use plastic that could be minimized, but most companies focus on the straws. Perry states that straws are not the major source of marine pollution. “That’s a big number, but, in the scope of plastic use, not nearly as dangerous as balloons, plastic bags, or the many sources of microplastics,”(Perry). Perry also states that there are other alternatives to reduce a plastic mess in the ocean besides banning plastic items. If no one is going to open their eyes and realize how serious this issue can be, maybe the bans and are necessary. The effects of plastic ocean pollution are very crucial to discuss.
It’s also important to consider the long term consequences certain to occur if nothing is done to reduce and eventually eliminate plastic pollution in the ocean. Oceans cover 80 percent of the world. Imagine plastic pollution worsening to the point where oceans become vacant of any form of life. That’s 80 percent of the world’s species gone, simply because humans didn’t take action soon enough. In order for the global amount of plastic ocean pollution to be reduced, the public must strive for change by coming up with solutions such as: placing fines on plastic products, banning specific plastic products, recycling, and creating more public awareness.
- Bender, Jaime. “In This Country, Charging a Small Fee for Plastic Grocery Bags Is Working.” From the Grapevine, From the Grapevine, 19 July 2018, www.fromthegrapevine.com/nature/does-charging-plastic-bags-work.
- Jordan, Chris. “Laysan Albatrosses’ Plastic Problem.” Smithsonian Ocean, ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/seabirds/laysan-albatrosses-plastic-problem.
- Le Guern, Claire. “When The Mermaids Cry: The Great Plastic Tide.” Plastic Pollution, SAF – Coastal Care, Mar. 2018, plastic-pollution.org/
- Perry, David M. “Banning Straws Won’t Save the Oceans.” Pacific Standard, 31 May 2018, psmag.com/environment/banning-straws-wont-save-the-oceans.
- “State Plastic and Paper Bag Legislation.” National Conference of State Legislation (NCSL), 17 May 2018, www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.asp
- Watson, Sara Kiley. “Last Straw For Plastic Straws? Cities, Restaurants Move To Toss These Sippers.” NPR, NPR, 31 May 2018, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/05/31/615580695/last-straw-for-plastic-straws-cities-r estaurants-move-to-toss-these-sippers.