In the last ten years we have produced more plastic then we did in the last century, enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times! Plastic is the largest source of marine litter in the ocean, billions of pounds of plastic can be found in ocean upwelling zones making up about 40% of the world’s ocean surfaces. 80% of all pollution enters the ocean from land. Plastic is everywhere, small fragments are found nearly everywhere on earth. Harmful chemicals leached by plastics are present in the bloodstream and tissues of almost every one of us. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the biggest ocean garbage site in the world located off the coast of California in the North pacific gyre. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.
The impacts on animals
Marine animals mistake plastic for food and are constantly ingesting plastics. Fish in the North pacific ingest 12,000- 24,000 tons of plastic each year this causes internal injuries, death and bioaccumulation. (Bioaccumulation is the build up of substances or chemicals inside an organism). Sea turtles also mistake floating plastics for food such as plastic bags, which unfortunately resemble their favourite food, Jellyfish. Although loggerhead sea turtles have been found with soft plastic, ropes, Styrofoam, and monofilament lines in their stomachs. Ingestion of plastic can lead to blockage in the gut, ulceration, internal perforation and death; even if their organs remain intact, turtles may suffer from false sensations of satiation and difficulties in reproduction. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds ingest plastic every year. Plastic ingestion reduces the storage space in the stomach, causing birds to consume less food and eventually starve. They also feed the small pieces plastic from their stomach to their chicks, mistaking it for food.
Marine animals are also suffocated by plastics such as carrier bags and six pack holders, which can block air passageways and/or cause abnormal growth patterns.
Entanglement occurs when common items like fishing line, strapping bands and six-pack rings get wrapped around animals affecting their mobility. Once entangled, animals have trouble eating, breathing and/or swimming, all of which can have fatal results. Marine mammals suffer from entanglement the most as they are larger. Large amounts of plastic have been found in the habitat of endangered Hawaiian monk seals, including in areas that serve as pup nurseries. Entanglement deaths are severely undermining recovery efforts of this seal, which is already on the brink of extinction. Entanglement in plastic debris has also led to injury and mortality in the endangered Steller sea lion, with packing bands the most common entangling material. In 2008 two sperm whales were found stranded along the California coast with large amounts of fishing net scraps, rope and other plastic debris in their stomachs.
What can we do?
According to the European Commission, 800,000 tonnes of single-use plastic bags are used every year in the European Union. The average citizen used 191 of them in 2010, and only 6% were recycled. More than four billion bags are thrown away each year in Europe. Indeed, the on-going problems associated with disposable plastic bags have prompted councils to find ways of getting shoppers to cut down. And so the 5p charge was introduced to the UK, the scheme aims to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, and the litter associated with them, by encouraging people to re-use bags.
This is a good start but what else can be done? You can be part of the solution by making these 10 lifestyle changes today:
- BUY products with little or no plastic packaging, and products made from recycled materials.
- REDUCE the amount of plastic and other waste you use by Bringing Your Own metal water bottle, coffee mug, bag, etc.
- RECYCLE as much as possible.
- REFUSE to use plastic single-use items, such as plastic grocery bags, plastic tableware and plastic cups.
- DISPOSE of your waste properly.
- KEEP storm drains clean.
- SPREAD the word! Tell friends how to properly dispose of trash and recycling, and encourage them to Bring Their Own.
- GET INVOLVED in local politics and encourage our leaders to pass bans on plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, and more.
- PARTICIPATE in an SOS beach or river cleanup!
- REPORT litter incidents in Monterey County through this easy online tool.