Beaches, wetlands, and coastal waters are littered with plastic pollution (big and small, some as small as the period at the end of this sentence, some plastic pieces are even smaller).
Plastic is a non-degradable pollutant that is seriously affecting marine life along coastal and offshore waters. Sadly, animals can get tangled up in plastic trash or ingest it—either because they mistake it for food, like jellyfish from a floating plastic bag in the water, or because the plastic has been broken down into tiny particles (called micro-plastics) by seawater to take on the appearance as plankton, an important food source for many bait fish and juvenile fish.
Plastic is made from fossil fuels, such as oil (petrolium) or natural gas, or a combination of both. It is unique because it’s non-biodegradable and therefore sticks around for a long time (like up to 1,000 years), a lot longer than other forms of trash, such as paper or a reusable cloth bag.
Way too many sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals, and seabirds die each year from the ingestion or entanglement in plastic debris. Unfortunately, plastic pollution doesn’t stop here. This deadly waste is also consumed by fish. Plastic can entangle sharks too, and plastic can damage coral reefs. A 2018 study based on four years of diving on 159 reefs in the Pacific shows that reefs in four countries — Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar — are heavily contaminated with plastic. It clings to the coral, especially branching coral. And where it clings, it sickens or kills.
Up to 85% of plastic pollution reaches the coast via storm drains (many storm drains are unfiltered), roadways, parking lots, construction zones, and other urban-suburban sources.
One Green Planet suggests that as many as 50 percent of sea turtles within the last decade are ingesting plastic at an unprecedented rate, and dying because of it. Another study of the Loggerhead species of sea turtle found that 15 percent of young turtles examined had ingested such enormous quantities of plastic that their digestive system was obstructed.
An estimated 98 percent of albatrosses were found to have ingested some kind of plastic debris within the research area of one study. Once the plastic was ingested, it caused an obstruction in the digestive tract and punctured internal organs of the birds.
Another study found that hundreds of species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) had been negatively impacted by plastic pollution in the past two decades. The obstructions often puncturing and tearing the stomach lining, leading to starvation and death. Marine Pollution Bulletin tells us that cetaceans are ingesting plastic debris at a rate as high as 31 percent, and in turn, 22 percent of those cetaceans were at an increased risk of death.
For humans, the news isn’t all that good either. There are different ways plastic is dangerous for people. Direct toxicity from plastics comes from lead, cadmium, and mercury (albeit plastics is a small source of such metals to our environment), these toxins leach into our environment over the service life of the plastic material and we unknowingly “consume” them through direct contact with plastic or via food that has been exposed to plastics. These toxins have also been found in many fish in the ocean, which is very dangerous for humans for people who consume high amounts of a fishy meal. For years, scientists have known that chemicals will move up a food chain as predators absorb the chemicals consumed by their prey. That's why the biggest, fattiest fish, like tuna and swordfish, tend to have the highest levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other dioxins.
A number of studies suggest that some of the fish humans continue to consume have at one time or another ingested plastic microfibers during its life cycle. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) contained in some plastics, is a toxic carcinogen. Other toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues.
To learn more about the effects of plastics on humans visit the Ecology Center
Creatures of all shapes and sizes have been found to have consumed micro-plastics, whether directly or indirectly.
Microplastics are plastic particles measuring less than five millimetres (0.2 inches), about the size of a sesame seed.
We already know that plastic bags and bottles are a problem, but microplastics are even worse! They have disastrous consequences for aquatic life and human health, not to mention the tiny bits of plastic could remain in the water for 400 years or more!
Microplastics form through the wear and tear of larger pieces of plastic, including plastic bags, bottles, tires (synthetic rubber, made from a variant of plastic, makes up around 60% of the rubber used in tires), fishing line and gear, and other synthetic materials that have not been properly thrown away. Weathering, such as from waves, salt water, sunlight, or other physical stress, breaks the plastic into smaller pieces.
The constant washing of synthetic clothes or blankets can also release microplastics into the environment. Tiny synthetic fibers are loosened into the water from every wash. Large numbers of these tiny synthetic fibers slip undetected through water treatment plants and into rivers, estuaries and the ocean.
For example, washing one fleece jacket of 680 grams loses almost a million fibers at a time.
Microplastics can also be deliberately manufactured and intentionally added to products for a specific purpose, for example, as exfoliating beads in facial or body scrubs or in various cosmetic products like shampoo, toothpaste and scrubs. Microbeads are used to give products their gritty texture, or in some instances a smooth structure. These manufactured microplastics are usually made out of polyethylene (or polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or nylon). Look out for these words when you buy a product. Traditionally, natural substances like almonds, salt, or oatmeal were used, but they natural materials started being replaced by plastic around the 1960s. Several countries have banned plastic micro-beads, including the United States. In 2015, President Obama signed a bipartisan bill, the Microbead-Free Water Act of 2015, which prohibits selling and distributing products containing micro-beads. The Netherlands banned them in 2014 and Canada in 2016. The UK has followed suit with a plan to ban microbeads in cosmetics by the end of 2017.
Currents carry microplastics and micro-beads into our coastal and marine waters. These tiny plastic particles can be harmful to fish, as they can become trapped in gills or digested to leave a fish feeling full even though there’s no nutrients in the digestive tract, causing a fish to starve to death. Drinking water supplies around the world and fish in our food chain have also been found to contain microplastics.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT PLASTIC POLLUTION?
Plastic is part of our everyday life and for many it is inherently difficult to imagine a world without it. But we must find a way to start living in a society with less plastic and less dependency on plastic.
Make manufactures of plastics take responsibility of their product!
The ultimate solution to our global plastic problem is for companies to take responsibility for the plastics they produce. Let’s face it, it’s not ethical (and it really shouldn’t be legal too) for a company to produce a product — especially a disposable, single-use product — and to sell it within a city, community or town that doesn't have the true capacity or ability to deal with the proper disposal of that item so it doesn’t pollute the environment or cause human health issues!! But that is exactly what is happening in many coastal cities, towns and communities. By doing this, soda companies, candy companies, fast-food snack companies, and even personal care companies are making a profit by selling something they know by now is truly harmful to both the natural and social environments.
Makers of plastic packaging should be required to find innovative ways to design packaging that can be more fully recovered for recycling or reuse. Companies of plastic products should also help cover the costs required to keep plastic out of our environment.
Tell plastic manufactures to take responsibility for their products, or better yet don’t purchase their polluting products. What you purchase has power! If enough people boycott a product, companies tend to change their ways or face becoming quickly irrelevant.
Until the day comes when plastic producing companies take responsibility for their product, join volunteers with Save Coastal Wildlife or other organizations to take part in a coastal clean-up to help remove trash deposited by thoughtless people!
STOP USING PLASTIC BOTTLES
Discontinue purchasing plastic bottles. Instead, purchase a sustainable, reusable bottle.
If you must purchase a plastic bottle, recycle it after use.
Ban plastic bottles within your household, school or workplace.
Find a reusable, sustainable, eco-friendly alternative for many household items such as shampoo and beverage containers.
WE KNOW IT ISN’T EASY, BUT PLEASE GIVE IT A TRY!
STOP USING PLASTIC BAGS
Many plastic bags are just used once, maybe twice if you line your trash cans with them. Yet, it takes anywhere from 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
Use a reusable tote bag, preferably made out of organic material (avoid those bags made from nylon or polyester because they're also made from plastic) or a reusable container made out of tin or steel. Make sure to wash them often to keep clean.
Where possible, we also recommend for coastal towns and cities to impose a 5-cent levy on plastic bags to gently encourage people to remember to bring their reusable bags or containers while shopping. BUT at the same time, reusable bags and containers should be available easily and cheaply (free is good), just as easily and cheaply available as plastic bags.
STOP USING PLASTIC STRAWS
This one is really easy to do, it’s as simple as asking to not get a straw with your beverage when you order one.
But don’t stop there! If possible, please work with your government leaders to ban plastic straws in your town or city, or at least work with the owner(s) of your favorite restaurant/bar to ban plastic straws, if it hasn't been done already.
We use over 500 million straws every day in America, and most of those pesky plastic straws end up in our estuaries and coastal waters, polluting the water and killing coastal life. We want to encourage people to stop using plastic straws for good. If we don’t act now, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Did you know that some plastic straws are still being made with materials that are potentially toxic or carcinogenic. And even if straws are labeled as “BPA-free” they might still contain the chemical.
Plastic is everywhere, sometimes even on your face or in your mouth. Trillions of of these little microplastic particles circulate through the world’s oceans, from the Antarctic to the Arctic, both close to the surface and in the deep sea.
Much of the plastic that’s polluting our coastal waters is known as microplastics, small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long resulting from the breakdown of consumer products, such as plastic bottles and containers, and industrial waste.
Microbeads are tiny pieces of polyethylene plastic added to health and beauty products, such as some face cleansers and toothpastes. These tiny chunks are next to impossible to filter out and easily pass through water filtration systems to end up in coastal waters, posing a potential threat to aquatic life. On December 28, 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, banning plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. Avoid items with “polypropylene” or “polyethylene” on the ingredients list.
Micro-plastics are still around from the breakdown of plastics that we use once and throw away. Make sure to use less plastic and always properly dispose of your plastics.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE YOUR TRASH
It’s true! Everything you need to know, you learned as a child, including how to manage your waste. Reduce, reuse and recycle - reduce waste, reuse stuff as much as possible and finally, if you can’t reuse it anymore, recycle. Absolutely, you can help our coastal environment by simply practicing the three R's of waste management that you learned in school:
Reduce, reuse, and recycle!
Buy products with less packaging
Do without disposables.
Stop junk mail and paper billing
Save and reuse packing materials
Buy and donate used clothing
Purchase reusable products
Shop for recycled products
Take advantage of your local recycling center
Recycle old electronics
Turn old materials into art. Follow the example of famous eco-artist, and recycling master - Lisa Bagwell
More information about reduce, reuse and recycling in the United States can be found from the US EPA
Instead of a Plastic Costume, Make your Own Homemade Halloween Costume
Make a bold eco-friendly statement this Halloween or for an upcoming costume party with a homemade costume using recycled, upcycled and environmentally-friendly materials! According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are planning to spend over $9 billon on Halloween goods in 2018, with an individual planning to spend an average of $86.79.
Curb your consumerism this year for shiny new plastic costumes and stop contributing to an ever-growing post-holiday waste pile. Make your own costume out of things you have lying around the house or out of things you can find at your local thrift shop. Need help, there are many awesome websites (seriously, just type in homemade costume in any search engine) to help you repurpose materials that would normally be discarded. Have fun with friends and family to create an amazing costume that best defines who you are.
STOP CHEWING PLASTIC GUM
Stop chewing on plastic! Gum was originally made from tree sap called chicle, a natural rubber. But soon after World War II, corporations realized that synthetic rubber (polyethylene and polyvinyl acetate) was cheaper and easier to get, and began to replace the natural rubber (chicle) in most gums. Nowadays, people are chewing on a mix of plastic and synthetic rubber, and other nasty ingredients, such as aspartame and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene), both known carcinogens. You may also be chewing on toxic plastic — polyvinyl acetate is manufactured using vinyl acetate, a chemical shown to cause tumors in lab rats.
Modern day synthetic chewing gum is actually one of the most health threatening “foods” available to the public and awful for the environment in manufacturing and disposal. Instead, chew on organic or natural gum that comes in paper boxes, and skip the plastic gum and its plastic packaging.
EAT REAL or WHOLE FOODS
When is the last time you had a real meal (not fast food) with family or friends? If you are like most people in our society, it was a long time ago. Sadly, many people nowadays don’t sit down to eat meals of real or whole foods (like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes) with family and friends. Instead snacking alone on highly processed foods appears to be replacing meals for a significant part of the population. The fact that people are opting to grab something easy and on the go instead of sitting down to enjoy a meal of real food with family or friends is detrimental to both a person’s health, society, and to the environment.
In America, the most popular snack choice is chips – either potato or tortilla. Many chips contain dangerous trans-fats, and are loaded with refined sodium, and sometimes even sugar. For health reasons, we should eat whole, organic, and nutritious foods—fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts, legumes, eggs, meat and fish (if you eat them)—and avoid processed junk foods.
From an environmental standpoint, all of these processed snack bags, plastic packaging, and plastic bottles are polluting our natural world. One of the best things you can do to prevent pollution is to eat a slow, sit-down meal at either a restaurant that cooks healthy local and/or organic foods, or better yet, learn to cook and become familiar with ingredients.
STOP PLASTIC SNACK BAGS!
Not only are chips inside a snack bag often bad for your health, but the shiny lining in chip bags is often aluminum or a special mixed plastic. Since recycling factories cannot separate the plastic outer layer from the aluminum inner layer, these mixed-material bags generally cannot be recycled.
Don’t Overfill a Trash Can!
Thar-She-Blows! Waste management can be very challenging during windy weather. Make sure to always dispose of your trash in a container that is not full or even better in one that has a lid or a cover. Make sure that all your trash fits in a garbage can and that the lid is closed tight. If a garbage can is overfilled or if the lid is up, the wind may blow litter down the street and into the water. It would be really nice if all coastal communities had trash cans with lids or covers so litter will not overflow, fly around or blow out of cans on breezy days.
SHARE THE KNOWLEDGE!
We are all in this together! Let family, friends, co-workers, community leaders, business owners, and people on social media know the plastic they are using is often contaminating our coastal waters and bad for their health! Kindly pass on the knowledge! If possible, offer practical tips to help improve on bad habits.
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