Stella has a keen interest in environmental issues and how the natural environment should be preserved for the benefit of all living things.
The "Plastecine" Era
I was born in the 1950s, the same decade in which plastic came into general use, and since then, it’s become one of the major threats to all living things—a fact that’s more than just shocking, considering all the millions of years life has thrived on this planet. Throughout that time, Mother Nature took excellent care of the breakdown of waste materials so nothing built up in the environment or changed, but then along came humans, who did everything contrary to nature.
Plastic never biodegrades; it's the Frankenstein's monster of the modern age. Nature just can’t deal with it. Even though it’s made from oil, which is a natural product, chemicals are added to create a material that’s so strong and durable it’s virtually indestructible. So, plastic never really goes away and it is, therefore, a permanent blot on the landscape and should be described as hazardous waste.
In this article, we'll look at:
- How plastic is affecting our oceans
- What the ordinary person can do about plastic pollution
- How social media can help
- The effects of plastic pollution around the world
The Ocean Is Fast Becoming a Plastic 'Soup'
Worse still, when plastic gets into the sea it photo-degrades, which means light and heat from the sun breaks large pieces of plastic down into smaller and smaller particles which damage marine life and contaminate the ocean.
Plastic also soaks up other contaminants so it becomes even more of a threat to marine ecosystems. We don’t even know the long-term effects of this 'plasticisation' of the oceans, but the prognosis is not good. Some beaches even have multi-coloured plastic ‘sand’ where these small particles frequently wash up. Wildlife mistakes them for food so they've entered the food chain where they cause all manner of disruption to the ecology from endocrine and reproductive problems to cancer. The fish and other seafood that you eat will contain these pollutants in their flesh.
I’ve always had a love of the sea, having been brought up on the coast. I can remember walking along a beach and seeing only driftwood and shells washed up with seaweed but nowadays the vast array of plastic debris that litters the seashore is horrifying. How did it get there? Surely people can’t be that careless about the environment? Discarded plastic can get into waterways and ends up in the sea along with other pollutants and trash that haven't been responsibly disposed of.
Another source of ocean plastic pollution which will surprise many is the man-made clothes we wear which are made from nylon fibres, a derivative of plastic. Every time an item of clothing is washed, it sheds microfibres into the wastewater which eventually find their way to the sea. The technology exists to prevent this if water treatment plants install filters but it's all down to cost. Filters can also be fitted to existing washing machines and new washers can be manufactured with built-in filters. The extra investment needed for this is money well spent when you consider the positive impact it would make on the environment.
What Can the Ordinary Consumer Do About Plastic Pollution?
I’m an ordinary housewife who like every other housewife on the planet puts out the household rubbish every day but how many of us really give a thought to where it actually ends up once it’s no longer in our backyard? We pay the council to take it away, right? ‘Not our problem anymore,’ some might say. I’ve often thought about all the plastic waste that an ordinary household produces in the course of a week before the bins are emptied and assumed that it would all be recycled but the disturbing fact is that most of the plastics produced each year are not recycled. It ends up in a landfill where it leaches into the groundwater and finds its way into rivers which flow to the sea. Bottles are usually recycled but other plastic food containers are often disregarded by many council recycling schemes.
300 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year globally but less than 15% of that is actually recycled. As much as twelve million tonnes end up in the oceans. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out the imbalance in those figures. I feel that much more needs to be done to persuade plastic producers to find an alternative product that doesn’t damage the environment. Reuse, reduce and recycle by all means, but ordinary conscientious consumers like me will still make very little difference unless the problem is tackled at the source.
So who should bear the responsibility, the producer or the consumer?
I feel the producers are the only ones who can deal with the problem effectively and come up with a workable solution. Consumers can only purchase what is on the shelves and unfortunately, there is hardly anything you can buy nowadays that isn’t made from plastic or doesn’t come packaged in the stuff. It was sold to the consumer back in the 1950s as a ‘miracle material’ and indeed it was and still is with the correct usage, but now we are aware of how damaging it is to all living things, scientists need to go back to the drawing board and come up with something better. Plastics should really be defined as hazardous waste which would hopefully make people more responsible about their disposal and this will also help persuade plastics manufacturers to alter the formulation to render it harmless.
The problem of plastic pollution is what you call a typical 'bathtub scenario.’ If you’re filling a bath and you don’t turn off the tap then the bathtub will soon overflow. You can pull out the plug to help matters but if the water continues to pour in, you will still get a deluge.
Social Media Works! Help Do Something Drastic About Plastic
So what can you do to persuade plastic producers to turn off the tap? Writing to your local MP if you live in the UK might be a start or you can contact the equivalent government representative in the country in which you reside. Writing to the plastic producers themselves could also be an idea as is setting up a petition or signing existing ones.
Facebook is a great way to find out about just about anything nowadays; granted there is a lot of misinformation and as in all things you have to be discerning but it’s such a good way to generate ideas, so the more and more people who are motivated to get involved, the better. You don’t have to donate if you don’t want to but you can share in the circulation of ideas to help raise awareness. You might even be able to help find a solution by commenting. There is one site called Take 3 for the Sea and all you have to do whenever you're at the coast or near a waterway is take three pieces of plastic away and dispose of them. This will stop so much plastic from getting into the waterways and will help protect the oceans. There are also many excellent sites which help raise awareness of plastic pollution and others that explain how plastic retrieved from the sea can be made into useful new items such as bags and clothing. Recycled single-use plastics can be made into blankets, tyres and even roads but the problem with the production of new plastics needs to be tackled at the source as recycling is never enough in relation to the alarming rate at which new plastic is being manufactured.
The Bathtub Scenario
If you’re filling a bath and you don’t turn off the tap then the bathtub will soon overflow . . . you can pull out the plug to help matters, but if the water continues to pour in, you will soon get a deluge.
— Stella Kaye
Don't Commit "Mundicide!" Help Find a Solution to Plastic Pollution
Some countries don’t have the facilities to recycle and worryingly they may not even have efficient waste disposal systems for normal waste. The world’s main plastic polluters are China, Indonesia, The Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Sadly, any plastic debris from these countries can wash up anywhere on the planet. Better education and awareness of the problem will help limit the damage, wherever you live in the world as this issue affects us all. Plastic is even found on pristine beaches thousands of miles from any human habitation as it drifts wherever the tide takes it. Birds on islands such as Midway are dying of hunger with their bellies full of plastic bottle tops and assorted plastic debris. They feed it to their chicks who die too. Unfortunately many land animals and marine life cannot differentiate between plastic and the food that makes up their normal diet. Red, brown and pink coloured bottle tops are especially dangerous as they are the same colour as shrimps and other marine life which sea birds are accustomed to eating. Sea creatures are also particularly vulnerable to ocean plastic pollution as they become entwined in discarded fishing lines and other plastic-related debris. Plastic bags give every appearance of jellyfish and are thus lethal when turtles try to feed on them, causing choking, entanglement and death.
The only way to stop the oceans and marine life from being damaged further is to halt plastic production in its current form until an environmentally friendly substitute is formulated and introduced. In the meantime, everyone can still do their bit to help tackle the problem by being responsible for the safe disposal of used plastic items and indeed all forms of waste.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2017 Stella Kaye