Overview: This research has given a better understanding of what we are dealing with and how Plastic pollution has drastically increased. There are major effects on human and wildlife that will become detrimental if not taken seriously. There has been research done to look at the
amounts of plastic being disposed improperly and where it is leading to. This research is intended to pursue action relief and decrease the amount of plastic being produced and there be change for alternatives to help the environment.
Background: Plastic pollution has been discovered to be more prominent in oceans than in land which is being ingested by sea creatures such as fish, polar bears, sharks, turtles, etc. The microplastics are being mistaken for food which fills the creature’s stomach, leading to death. Another issue with microplastic is that humans are consuming sea animals that have traces of the materials without knowing. These traces can eventually have impacts on the health of individuals who consume enough to develop illnesses and diseases. Without the knowledge that it could be seafood, healthcare workers and patients might not find the source. This research has concluded that the majority of individuals do not know of this issue and how important it should be to them and the planet they live in.
Why is plastic an important issue to learn and care about? Out of the many materials there are, plastic materials have the lowest recovery rate and has an extensive life that prevents it from breaking down. In fact, it takes hundreds of years for just one bottle to break down completely. Global urbanization has prevented action to decrease the amounts being disposed of. The more people there are, the more plastic is being created and used. The corporate world is producing more plastic as it is inexpensive oppose to other materials to replace it. Most of the plastic they
produce is single use plastic. Early developers intended for the material to be cheap and affective for businesses and individuals.
Since the 50’s, approximately 8.3 billion tons of waste have been produced which is equivalent to the weight of more than 80,000 Eiffel towers
- Researchers have found that 73% of the beach litter is plastic. The majority of the people who go to the beach will take food and beverages. Many of these people are not picking up after themselves and instead leaving their trash on the beach. Proper disposal is not being enforced by many beaches which only has consequences for ecosystems.
- Approximately 2 million plastic bags are being used EVERY minute. About 1.1 million Seabirds and animals are being killed due to plastic particles they ingest. “ Plymouth University has found that close to 700 species of marine life are facing extinction due to the increase of plastic pollution” (Mwamba, 2018).
- Over the past 50 years, plastic production has doubled, and the consumption rate is drastically increasing. The national Geographic estimates that by 2050 there will be 12 billion metric tons of just plastic in landfills.
- Plastic is strong and flexible meaning that just ONE plastic bottle can last 450 years on land and ocean. That being said, bottles start to slowly deter into smaller fragments which becomes even more dangerous to wildlife to consume.
- 500 billion bags are used in a year (WOW!)
- 99% of seabird’s species could possibly ingest plastic by 2050
- Lastly, we (humans) are affected not just marine and land animals. Surfers against sewage says, “In seawater plastic absorbs chemicals like PCB’s and DDT’s which have been linked to endocrine disruption and even some cancers, becoming more powerful as they work their way up the food chain” (Surfers against sewage, n.d.) You have most likely have ingested some type of seafood containing small fragments of plastic in your life.
The production of plastic has increased from 1. Million tons to 396 tons in a span of 68 years. Up to 14 million tons are being disposed in the oceans by companies, countries and people who do not properly get rid of the material. The main issue with it being improperly disposed of is lack of education and not caring. Many countries do not know about the 3 cycle, reduce, reuse, and recycle. There is no knowledge of the materials that need to be disposed of separately than what is considered trash. Packing is the number 1 contributor when it comes to using up more plastic. Packing is the dominant generator which can be responsible for almost half of the total waste. Then, we have building and construction.
Data: world data confirms that Guyana, Kuwait, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, and United States are the countries to be first on the list of “contribute the most waste with improper disposal”. The united states alone, produces 38 million products that contain plastic. The united states are the country with one of the lowest recycle rates, which is approximately 9 percent. Next, China is next to the United States, but it is first in producing more plastic than any other country.
Important issue within plastic pollution: Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The infamous garbage patch is a patch floating around the Pacific Ocean that slightly moves around to different parts of the ocean throughout the year. It was first discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore. After a year, he went back to check on the patch and discovered that it grown significantly. The patch is now considered to be an island (of trash) because it enlarges every year. There is still research going on how to combat the island because it would take many years in order to pick up every piece of trash. There have been many trials and machines made for the purpose of cleaning it up but has proven to be unsuccessful thus far. Much of the trash is from materials leading in the ocean and becoming trapped in the patch but 20% of the patch is directly linked to boaters. The ships dump debris into the water for many reasons and one being they don’t have to pay for proper disposal because they can simply dump trash into the ocean without being caught. No one can be held responsible for the patch as there are many contributors such as countries, boaters and loose trash.
Fact about the great patch:
- It is made up of 3.6 trillion pieces of plastic coming from different countries who border the oceans
- 92 of the mass is from material larger than 5mm
- There are 4 types of plastics- Type H, N, P, and F all which have differences
- The patch moves due to the subtropical convergence zone that directly links sides of the patch
- Even the smallest piece of trash can lead itself to the patch and get stuck there
- Algae and plankton are denied sunlight from reaching below depending where the patch is located
Surely, the different types of plastics have different effects depending on the type. However, all are dangerous and have harmful impacts. 84% are contain toxic chemicals that have at least 1 persistent bio-accumulative toxic chemical. Whatever species is ingesting anything from the patch, they are also retaining the toxic chemical which can lead to death. With species dying from the chemical, that will lead to an endangerment of species and then ecosystems who depend of them.
Change in practices/habits- This would be a change in normal activities such as using reusable shopping bags instead of single use bags. Plastic bags are produces at large quantities every day and by using reusable bags, we can eliminate the production every day. Many countries have passed laws to effectively ban single use plastic bags. These countries are then posing large fees for those who do not cooperate, and it is done because most people cannot afford to pay ticket after ticket. There have been small initiatives to reduce the use like in San Jose, California. There was a 10-cent charge for paper bags which led to a 4 percent to 62% increase in reusable shopping bags.
- Science: New technology is being created for better alternatives like converting plastic into oil. This would be effective since it can be an alternative to fuel and be more cost effective. Water bottles would have a short duration when it delivers to when it needs to be used but given enough time for consumers to drink the water. There is also a fungus that thrives on plastic by consuming it which would make the process easier for getting rid of waste. What would happen would be that the enzyme would break the polymer chains of the plastic and then fight whatever holds the plastic material together for hundreds of years.
- Banning plastic bags can increase employment
- Reduces the cost of goods
- Less tax money on having to pick up litter
- Marine and land life will improve
- Health benefits
- Quality benefits
- Infrastructure systems will run smoother and efficient.
- Decrease in plastic bags means a decrease of mosquitos. When bags collect rainwater, that then becomes a breeding ground for the mosquito population.
The best decision is for citizens to change their habits and we can do this through laws and fees. When there are consequences, people are more likely to follow what should be done. At first, we would expect some backlash and some negatives responses but with programs to implement knowledge of the affects we can project to see, we can expect for there to be a change through those who do not accept the plan. The first step is to refuse plastic bags as being the number 1 contributor, this would force corporations to stop the massive production and reduce the carbon food print. We can expect for corporations to have larger fees for producing against the law and lawsuits that would benefit research to better alternatives for future use. For personal change, people can start by volunteering and helping organizations combat waste throughout their neighborhoods and beaches if they leave close to one. If the majority responds by cleaning up, we can see a big decrease of waste landing in oceans because then the waste collected is disposed of properly and taken care of.
There are policies that have already been created that we can follow. For example, California has taken initiative to make the state plastic free and create better alternatives for the items we use such as plastic bags, bottles, and containers. Those changes include fees for manufactures and funding protection for current and future research. It may be hard to pass laws as everyone has different opinions and there could be more important lists to cover before making it to plastic production. There are also other environmental issues that could be focused on more before plastic pollution is pushed into an agenda but there are talks in action. Currently, the UN is having meetings over what can be done to stop the production and reduce plastic pollution.
This has been a quite interesting topic to research and the damage it is creating is not getting the sufficient attention from countries and government. If we are able to spread this topic and bring some attention to it, we can bring awareness. It is important we do something about it because it is not only harming the environment but us. Those who depend on seafood are most at risk since that is what they need to eat for the majority of their diet. We have yet to find ways to fully get rid of plastic and find alternatives to stop the production but as of right now, plastic production will continue to rise every day, the use will continue to increase as the population increases, and the improper disposal too will increase even more. We see that every year waste is increasing by much more every single year. It is up to us to make a change and to urge policy makers to take action now. Let’s save us, animals, and our planet!