Why is Ocean Plastic Harmful?
Ocean plastic needs to be addressed because by 2025 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish in the sea (Lonely Whale). Plastic is not biodegradable, but instead is degradable meaning it simply breaks down into smaller plastics called microplastics. Plastic never really goes away. Every piece of plastic ever made is still here on earth. As society’s reliance on single use plastic increases, our marine life is extremely susceptible to the dangers they present. Many of our ocean’s friendly creatures become tangled and trapped in waste such as plastic rings (Pelon). For instance, whales are dying at alarming rates because their stomachs are so full of plastic that they cannot digest anything else (Paul). This epidemic of ingesting plastic is impacting almost all marine life because they are either directly consuming plastic or indirectly by eating animals that have plastic in their system. Humans are also at risk because approximately 15% of all protein consumed globally comes from our oceans so humans are indirectly consuming plastics that are found in the seafood (Sanjayan). Our seabirds are also threatened because by 2050 99% of all seabirds will have ingested plastic (Lonely Whale). Even if you do not live by the ocean, plastic can end up there through the drainage and waterway systems.
Straws are extremely harmful for our planet, particularly for our marine life. First of all, they are not recyclable due to the resin of plastic they are made from so they are piling up in landfills and actually contaminate recycling. If they end up in our oceans, the consequences can be even more deadly. Since straws are small and lightweight they can be accidentally ingested by marine life which is terrible for their health and can result in death. Currently the United States is using approximately 500 million straws daily (Melnick). Simply refusing straws at restaurants or switching to reusable ones makes a huge difference because those tiny straws add up to make a huge negative environmental impact.
Plastic bags are one of the most common items found at beach cleanups with approximately 52,000 bags cleaned up so far (Sloactive). Plastic bags cannot be recycled in at home recycling bins and only through separate collection bins. In the United States about 100 billion plastic bags are used yearly with only about 5% being recycled (Melnick). Many plastic bags are ending up in landfills and their lightweight nature allows them to be blown everywhere including our waterways/ oceans. One of the main problems is that these bags look like jellyfish in the water so they are easily mistaken for food. Please use reusable bags as much as possible in order to reduce plastic bag usage.
Some soaps, face washes, and even toothpastes have exfoliators made from microbeads. Microbeads are small pieces of plastic that do not break down, nor are they biodegradable. When washed down the drain they make their way to our oceans and waterways where they are hurting marine
life. One tube of facial scrub can contain more than 330,000 plastic microbeads (5 Gyres). Animals consume these beads which fill their bodies with harsh chemicals. In 2018 the Microbead-Free Waters Act became law making many of the products that contained microbeads illegal. If you still have products with microbeads do not dump them in the sink. Please empty them into the trash and try to recycle the container if it is made from recyclable material. For eco-friendly exfoliants opt for coffee grounds, sea salt, oatmeal, or sugar scrubs. Bar soaps are also a great alternative that has less packaging.
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Corals are essential to housing marine life. Our beautiful coral reefs are disappearing at extremely rapid rates. If the reefs go so do the fish because approximately 25% of marine life depend on the coral reefs (Fight for our Reefs). Coral bleaching is apparent when colorful coral turns white because it is under stress causing it to longer produce food. The coral has died when it becomes almost transparent and has algae growing on it. Corals are disappearing due to a number of factors including climate change from an increase in water temperature, ocean acidification, and pollution. Currently the Paris Climate Agreement is working towards keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees (we have already reached one degree). Climate change does not mean everywhere around the world goes up evenly one degree rather it is an average with extreme weather conditions experienced all over the world. To put it in perspective 1.5 degrees means 70%- 90% of corals are gone and at 2 degrees, 99% of coral is gone and all are threatened (Levin). To help our coral reefs climate change needs to be addressed and greenhouse gas emissions reduced. When going to the beach sunscreen often contains harsh chemicals that are actually expediting coral bleaching. Spray sunscreen is even worse because once it is sprayed on the sand it gets washed away into the ocean and causes air pollution. Look for reef safe sunscreen to slow down the depletion rate of corals.
Levin, Kelly. “Half a Degree and a World Apart: The Difference in Climate Impacts Between 1.5˚C and 2˚C of Warming.” Half a Degree and a World Apart: The Difference in Climate Impacts Between 1.5˚C and 2˚C of Warming | World Resources Institute, 7 Oct. 2018, www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/half-degree-and-world-apart-difference-climate-impacts-between-15-c-and-2-c-warming.
Melnick, Lauren. “Facts about Plastic Pollution and What You Can Do to Minimize Your Footprint.” GVI USA, www.gviusa.com/blog/facts-about-plastic-pollution-and-what-you-can-do-to-minimize-your-footprint/.
Paul, Deanna. “Whales Keep Eating Plastic and Dying. This One's Stomach Had 88 Pounds of Calcifying Trash.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Mar. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/03/18/whales-keep-eating-plastic-dying-this-ones-stomach-had-pounds-calcifying-trash/?utm_term=.8bbd3bef00
Pelon, Katie. “How Does Ocean Plastic Affect Whales?” Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, 10 Mar. 2019, www.blueoceansociety.org/blog/how-does-ocean-plastic-affect-whales/.
“Plastic Pollution Guide - Ocean Pollution Facts & Figures.” SLO Active, 15 Apr. 2019, sloactive.com/plastic-pollution/.
“What Is Coral Bleaching and What Causes It - Fight For Our Reef.” Australian Marine Conservation Society, Fight for Our Reef, www.marineconservation.org.au/coral-bleaching/.
“Why This Matters.” For A Strawless Ocean, www.strawlessocean.org/faq/.