Plastics: How Do We Deal?

Plastics: How Do We Deal?

Oceanbags are made from retrieved plastic bottles that are bound-for-but-not-yet-in-the-ocean. That’s a mouthful. Rewind…

What is plastic really?

Plastic is a material that comes from synthetic or human-made organic compounds containing carbon, often made with petroleum, and can come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Many plastics are single-use items and are specifically designed to be used once before being thrown away or recycled. It is a flexible, lightweight, and inexpensive material that is used in products from food and beverage packaging as well as food ware. In addition, plastics are in the makeup of electronics, construction materials, medical supplies, fishing gear, and clothing. Clearly plastics are so integrated into our society that there is no hope of stopping usage or replacing them. They’re everywhere: in your home, workplace, shops and schools.

Unfortunately, plastics are also in your ocean, and the ocean is a huge place, with deep canyons and remote shorelines that are extremely difficult to reach. Once plastic is in the ocean, it can be extremely difficult to understand where it comes from, or how much there is out there. Scientists estimate that about 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010. That’s the weight of 1 billion elephants. By 2050, the amount of collective plastic will increase to 34 billion metric tons. This collective comes from a variety of sources and in multiple forms. Actually, plastic can enter the marine environment in a variety of ways. Rain and wind frequently sweep debris into nearby water bodies, but our limited resources for disposing of trash, improper trash collection, littering, or through stormwater runoff exacerbate the problem. Once in the environment, plastic doesn’t decompose. It often floats and so is exposed to sun, salt water, and wave motion. This causes it to fragment into smaller pieces some of which break into microplastics. This wreaks havoc on marine ecosystems. Microplastics are small plastics less that 5mm. Even smaller varieties—microbeads and microfibers—can carry other harmful chemicals such as flame retardants, dyes and pesticides.

During the Ocean Conservancy’s 2018 International Coastal Cleanup, the top ten waste items found around the world were single-use plastic items, including cigarette butts, food wrappers, straws, single-use cutlery, beverage bottles, bottle caps, grocery bags and other plastic bags, lids, and cups and plates. Two of the most egregious negative impacts of plastic waste are entanglement when marine life is caught in old fishing nets and other entrapping debris and ingestion when animals mistake plastic for food. ­­­­­

You might ask if biodegradable or compostable plastics are better for our environment? Plastics labeled as biodegradable that may break down in industrial composting facilities, are in no way guaranteed to break down in household compost piles, soil, or marine environments. Even plastics labeled biodegradable or compostable, could stay in the ocean and Great Lakes for an indefinite amount of time

Unarguably a problem of debris buildup in global waters as well as land, there is not a ‘one-size fits all’ solution to plastic waste. A study by Law et al.has revealed the United States is responsible for a larger portion of plastic waste entering the marine environment than anyone worldwide. As of 2016, the US has created 42 million metric tons of plastic waste. The study also found that the US was the third largest contributor to mismanaged plastic waste. This comes as a result of our littering, illegal dumping, and exporting to other countries who don’t dispose of waste responsibly. In 2016, approximately 1.45 million metric tons of plastic debris entered the coastal environment from the United States. 

In answer to marine debris, the NOAA Marine Debris Program also supports community-based marine debris removal projects across the United States. Including both local shoreline cleanups and vessel removals, these projects benefit coastal habitats, waterways, and wildlife. Beginning in 2006, the NOAA Marine Debris Program supports over 160 marine debris removal projects. They have removed more than 22,500 metric tons of marine debris from our waters and coasts. Using outreach and education to raise awareness and change behaviors, the NOAA attempts to make a difference.

But... What can we do personally? Consider an overflowing sink. Before you can clean up the water, you must turn off the faucet. By preventing plastic marine debris from entering the ocean, waterways, we can turn off the faucet and at least stop the problem from growing.

We can participate in cleanups. We can volunteer to pick up marine litter in our local community.( Find a cleanup near you! ) As a daily effort, we can reduce, reuse, and recycle. We must learn to dispose of waste properly no matter where we are and to remember to help others realize that land and sea are connected. And check this out:  How to Help.

         This is everyone’s problem, and you can be part of the solution in the next three minutes! Buy an Oceanbags product which repurposes retrieved plastic bottles before they reach the ocean. Donate your extra pennies to our effort or another nonprofit dedicated to making the earth and waters cleaner. Every single action takes us one step closer to the solution.

 Additional Resources - Links

Plastic Marine Debris Fact Sheet

Report: Guidelines for the Monitoring and Assessment of Plastic Litter in the Ocean

 

 

 

 

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