Imagine you are wandering in a mountain valley. Or you are sailing in a boat. Or rather diving deep towards the sea bottom somewhere in the Red Sea. Most probably your imagination builds images of beautiful nature in your mind, revealing stunning views. I apologize; I have to disappoint you. Imagine the same picture you had in your mind with enormous amounts of plastic in it. Sounds disturbing?
8 million metric tons of plastic go to oceans each year. Estimates show that this quantity will be doubled by 2025. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, 100 000 marine mammals die annually due to plastic marine pollution. The alarming facts do not cease here. Ocean currents swirl around the unbelievable amounts of plastic materials and form garbage patches of waste masses, floating in the global ocean. The common presence of plastic in the sea is shocking. However, the complexity of the issue deteriorates further and questions our current ability to prevent an ecological catastrophe. The problem extends beyond the boundaries of what is visible. In water environment, plastic decomposes rapidly to small invisible microscopic particles thinner than a single piece of hair. These fragmented pieces of plastic are toxic and non-biodegradable, meaning that they cannot be absorbed by the natural system. Plastic across global oceans leads to unpredicted outcomes many are unaware of. The toxic substances found in plastic pose a hazard to the whole ecosystem and marine animals as the decomposed particles become part of the food chain upon being ingested by marine wildlife. Researchers report that the presence of plastic and micro-plastic in the ocean will have implications not only on marine pollution but also on food contamination.
Does this sound shocking to you? You might ask how we have come to this stage. 80% of marine debris has resulted from land-based sources. Marine debris is defined as waste comprised of plastic, metals, and glass. The term has been used for the past 25 years to describe man-made materials discarded in the ocean. Being carried by sea currents, marine debris has even reached remote places such as the Arctic. The Arctic is now exposed to a new threat – pollution entering its wildlife as the natural barrier of ice slowly diminishes due to melting because of increase in global temperature.
The hazardous composition of plastic waste harms all living organisms, including people. There are significant results both on the environment and human health. 33 % of plastic materials (such as water bottles, straws, and bags) are used only once before being thrown away. Plastic does not degrade; it does not perish from the environment. Another alarming figure is that there is a ton of plastic per each human on Earth. The process of producing plastic, which is a petroleum-based product, involves the conversion of natural gas and crude oil components to monomers. The carcinogenic monomers (ethylene, polypropylene, butane) are later chemically bonded to form polymer. The creators of the process were humans. They are also those who generate all the plastic waste disposed of in the ocean. Seldom, though, people think about their consumer habits and their effect on plastic pollution. Awareness about one’s plastic habits should be raised. Otherwise, the devastation of humanity and ecosystems will continue.
Imagine the sailing canvass in your mind from the very beginning. Is it still the same?
Next time you throw away your bottle in the waste bin, assuming it will vanish into the void, stop for a second. Because it will probably end up being in the ocean. Think about how you consume and how you dispose of litter. If you start using your power as a consumer, the world can become a better place.