“What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It's that simple."
- Marcus Eriksen, Algalita Marine Research Foundation
One of the unintended consequences of plastics has to do with our oceans and the things that depend on them. Albatross nesting 2 thousand miles from the nearest continent feed their chicks bits of plastic debris found floating on the ocean. Tens of thousands of chicks a year die of the resulting starving, choking, and toxicity.
Plastic persists in the environment for hundreds of years or longer. Samples of plastic found in the ocean patches contain primarily:
- low-density polyethylene - #4 plastic (used mostly for plastic bags, plastic wraps, and six pack rings)
- polystyrene - #6 plastic (used for disposable cutlery, CD cases, packing materials, closed cell foam insulation, and disposable foam drinking cups)
- polypropylene - #5 plastic (used in textiles like fabric and carpet, ropes, diapers, and food containers)
- polyethylene terephthalate, or PET - #1 plastic (used in beverage and food containers, packaging trays, carpets, and plastic bottles)
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for example, is an immense area of mostly plastic garbage that has accumulated in the North Pacific Ocean. It is only one of several similar garbage patches in the world's waters. They contain up to 90% plastic.
The Garbage Patches are not solid islands, but have been described as a kind of "plastic soup" with bits of various sizes held in the column of water below the surface. The debris has also been identified as plastic "confetti".
Eventually the plastic waste enters the food chain and works its way up and back onto our disposable plastic plates in our food. It may be that it is impossible to retrieve the plastic and other garbage from the water it is suspended in.
Algalita, a marine research institute, recommends instead that we work at reducing our plastic use, and preventing plastic from entering our waterways in the first place.
On their website they stress the importance of finding ways to alleviate the problem of plastic accumulation in the world's oceans. Algalita says, "We need to DO NO MORE HARM, and stop the flow of waste into our marine environment.
- Reconsider the use of plastic products, and the way you do things. Can an alternate material, such as paper, glass or aluminum serve the same purpose? (When I make yogurt at home I skip the plastic container that the store bought stuff comes in, and put mine in a reused glass container.)
- Try not to use single use/disposable products made of plastic, such as cutlery, water bottles and plastic bags. Stainless steel water bottles are a reusable alternative. Carry cutlery from home with you.
- Reduce the use of plastic, and reuse materials wherever possible. Consuming less will decrease the waste of unnecessary plastics. Become a responsible consumer.
- Encourage more investigation and research into alternate materials, such as compostable, or biodegradable plastics.
- Support closed-loop manufacturing processes that capture waste, and reuse it as a raw material.
- Recycle all materials properly. Turn waste into a resource. Some creative products are now being made from recycled plastics.
"No one solution is the answer, and there are many more ideas yet to come that will generate a whole new set of solutions. We believe human creativity, changes in habits, and technological developments will eventually result in our oceans being clean again."
Plastic has been found in almost 300 different species tested around the world, such as birds, turtles, fish, and whales, including orcas. Nearly 100% of the albatross tested contained plastic bits mistaken for food.
Help the albatross, other marine animals, and your own health, and work toward punting the plastic in your life. Plastic used for short-lived or superficial applications is the easiest to eliminate, and is a good place to start.