Swimming in an Ocean of Plastic

Plastic is pouring into the oceans, into fish, and ending up in your stomach
By Deborah Mitchell, www.NaturallySavvy.com
June 9, 2018 Updated: June 11, 2018

On April 11, 2018, there were news stories about a young sperm whale that had washed up on the beach in Spain. The cause of death: 64 pounds of plastic and other debris. Most of the plastic in the whale was lodged in its stomach.

By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish. On a recent visit to a remote island, scientists found 18 tons of plastic washed up on its shores. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, 10 metric tons of plastic, from straws to grocery bags, to tampon sleeves and water bottles, are transported into the Pacific Ocean every day from the Los Angeles area alone.

It seems we have a problem with plastic. Yet each and every one of us can do something about it.

Take a few minutes and think about your typical day. How many plastic items do you come into contact with every day? How much of your car is made of plastic? Do you bring your lunch to work in a plastic container? Do your kids have plastic toys? How about your dog? Do you use plastic water bottles, credit cards, carryout containers, straws, grocery bags, or computers? 

Plastic is ubiquitous in your life, and it’s also ubiquitous in the environment, including the oceans. The worst of the plastics are the one-timers: the single use water bottles, utensils, disposable diapers, cups, straws and coffee stirrers, grocery bags, packaging, and other items we tend to use once and then toss away.

Did you know that …

  • The average “working life” of a plastic grocery bag is 15 minutes?
  • More than 1 million plastic bags are used every minute?
  • That packaging accounts for more than 40 percent of total plastic usage?
  • In 2014, 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the United States, which equates to 315 bottles per person. Of those, 57 percent were water bottles.

Problems With Plastics in our Oceans

Although the oceans are vast, they are a delicate ecosystem, finely tuned to sustain a wide range of marine life in a carefully orchestrated dance. As humans continue to dump enormous amounts of poison into these waters, that balance is being thrown off, creating a toxic brew that is deadly not only for the creatures that live in it, but inhabitants of the land and air as well.

What are the problems with plastic in our oceans?

  • It causes sea birds to starve. When sea birds ingest pieces of plastic, their stomachs become full of the foreign material and they consume less food, which causes them to starve. Birds often mistake tiny pieces of plastic for food. It’s been estimated that by 2050, 99 percent of sea birds will have plastic in their stomachs.
  • It impales, wraps around, and is ingested by sea turtles. Research indicates that half of sea turtles around the world have eaten plastic.
  • It is swallowed by fish and other marine life. A study has shown that 25 percent of fish at California markets have plastic in their guts, primarily in the form of plastic microfibers.
  • It absorbs hazardous substances such as DDT, PCBs, and PAH. These chemicals can interfere with hormone function, cause cancer, and affect the nervous system. When we ingest fish that have eaten plastic, the toxins are passed to us.
  • It deteriorates and releases toxic chemicals into the water, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which are then taken in by fish and, eventually, people.
  • Plastic pollution has a devastating impact on the economy of countries around the world. The presence of tons of plastic on beaches affects tourism and damages fishing and aquaculture industries. It is also costly to clean up. In addition, plastic that is discarded in the waste stream away from oceans clogs up sewer systems and waterways on its way to the oceans, causing significant damage to infrastructure and costing huge amounts of money to clean up.

What You Can do to Reduce Plastics in the Oceans

Everyone plays a role in contributing to plastic in the ocean, and so every person can take steps to reduce that burden. No matter how small your effort, every action counts. Here are a few things you can do right now.

  • Use stainless steel, ceramic, or glass water bottles instead of plastic.
  • Stop using store-bought, one-time use plastic water bottles immediately.
  • Bring your own take-home food containers with you to restaurants. Styrofoam, plastic coated boxes, and plastic clamshell type containers end up in the trash and often find their way to the ocean.
  • If you must use a straw, buy your own sustainable straw and carry it with you. In the United States and the UK, 550 million straws are thrown away every day.
  • Take your groceries home in canvas, net, or other sustainable bags. About 1 trillion plastic grocery bags are thrown away every year, and many end up in the oceans.
  • Use cloth diapers instead of disposable ones. In the United States alone, 27.4 billion disposable diapers are tossed away every year.
  • Choose feminine hygiene products that are plastic-free.
  • Stay away from products with microbeads. Although there is a federal ban on the use of microbeads in toothpaste and health products that rinse off, such as soaps and body wash, the ban does not extend to deodorants, makeup, lotions, or household cleaners. A good rule of thumb is to use organic products in all categories whenever possible.

Deborah Mitchell is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. This article was originally published on NaturallySavvy.com