Plastic Pollution And The Plight Of The Planet

by Marlene Affeld

By heedlessly discarding plastic, especially plastic water and beverage bottles, fishing gear and plastic bags, people are unknowingly causing the deaths of millions of mammals, fish, birds and reptiles every year. We defile the face of the earth with plastic refuse.

Since the invention of plastic earlier this century, it has become a popular material used in a wide variety of unique and innovative applications. Plastic is used to make, or wrap around, many of the items we buy or use. The problem comes when we no longer want these items and how we dispose of them, particularly the throwaway plastic material used in wrapping or packaging. Plastic is accessible, lightweight and quickly discarded. Too quickly discarded.

Plastics are utilized because they are easy and inexpensive to manufacture, tough and durable. Unfortunately these same useful qualities make plastic an overwhelming pollution problem. Inferior quality and low cost means plastic is readily discarded. Plastics require over 300 years to photo degrade. Its long life assures it survives in the environment for extended periods where it can do great harm. Because plastic does not easily decompose and requires high energy ultra-violet light to break down, the volume of plastic waste in the world’s oceans is steadily growing. Plastic is now found in virtually all the oceans and rivers of the world, even the most unexploited and once pristine.

American oceanographer Charles Moore says the amount of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is so extensive it’s beyond cleaning up. A floating toxic plastic refuse dump double the size of Texas swirls in the waters of the Pacific ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii. There his crew found that the water contained six parts of plastic for every part plankton, with a fivefold increase in the amount of plastic between 1997 and 2007.

Annually in excess of 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. That is an unconscionable amount of waste, so much that more than one million bags are used every minute and their impact on the planet is devastating. Plastic bags are only part of the problem. America alone, produces in excess of 800,000 tons of plastic bottle pollution every year, and the amount is growing. World-wide the earth is defiled with over 100 million tons of plastic pollution every year.

According to the California Costal Commission, over 80 per cent of refuse within our rivers and coastal waterways, most of it being plastic, originates on land rather than coming from boats.

Plastic pollution impacts marine wildlife in deadly ways: entangling creatures and by being ingested. Turtles are particularly vulnerable to plastic pollution. All seven of the world’s turtle species are already endangered or threatened for a multitude of reasons. Turtles become entangled in fishing nets, and many sea turtles have been found dead with plastic garbage bags in their stomachs. Studies indicate turtles mistake these floating semi-transparent bags for jellyfish and eat them. The turtles die an inhumane death from choking or from being unable to eat. A turtle carcass found off the coast Hawaii had more than 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach including part a toy truck wheel, a broken comb and lank of nylon rope.

There is considerable global concern about the longterm effect of plastic pollution on all marine mammals. These elegant creatures are already under threat for a variety of other reasons: e.g. seal and whale populations have been decimated by unregulated hunting. A recent study concluded that in excess of 100,000 marine mammals die needlessly each year from the deadly effects of plastic pollution.

Globally over 100 bird species are known to eat plastic particles. This includes 36 species found off the coast of South Africa. A recent study of blue petrel hatchlings at South Africa’s remote Marion Island showed that 90% of the chicks examined had plastic in their digestive systems, apparently fed to them accidentally by their parents. South African seabirds are among the worst affected in the world. Plastics remain in the birds’ stomachs, impeding digestion and causing starvation.

Scientific reports are not complete about how much plastic birds and fish are ingesting, however scientist agree that plastic toxins in seafood are likely to be harmful when eaten by humans. Plastic is compared with toxic materials such as mercury. Plastic acts like an absorbent sponge when in contact with poisons such as PCBs, concentrating them at levels that are millions of time more toxic than those found in uncontaminated in seawater.

The ingredients in plastic have been linked to cancer and reproductive deformaties. Bisphenol A, found in plastic water bottles, has been shown to produce cancer in lab rats, to interrupt hormone levels and is associated with diabetes and obesity.

Scientists also voice concerns that the massive swirls of floating plastic could contribute to global warming by creating a dense shade canopy that makes it difficult for plankton to grow.

Let’s look at a few ways where together we can make a difference. The crisis of plastic pollution demands urgent study and action. Business should be encouraged to reduce the amount of plastic used in packaging and to recycle. Plastic wrapping and bags should be required to carry a warning label advising of the dangers of plastic pollution and shoppers should be encouraged to use earth friendly shopping bags of organic, natural materials or recycled plastic fibers. Please write and lobby our law makers. The situation only continues to escalate. We must take action now!

Support re-cycling programs and promote environmental awareness in your local community. Be pro-active in asking governments to make changes and consumers to re-think their attitudes. Purchase products requiring less plastic packaging and tell store management why we are doing so. United we can speak with a loud voice when we speak with our dollars.

Decide to drink tap or carbon filtered water from a glass-lined reusable container. If you do purchase plastic bottled, dispose of the container responsibily. Recycle.

Increasing environmental awareness points out that it is obvious that there is more that we can do to create a sustainable planet. If every one of us would take a few tiny steps, make a few different choices and consciously consider our impact on the planet, we could find a way to restore the world to its original beauty, purity and resources.

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