Everything is bigger in Pollution: How Plastic is Changing our Waters
Imagine a plastic dump site twice the size of Texas spread out in the United States across our parks, our schools, and our work places as far as the eye can see. I have often heard the term that “Everything is bigger in Texas”, and the plastic dump site would cover 1,320 miles across our cities and towns, which is approximately double the miles across Texas. Children and pets put chemicals and garbage in their mouth, and get tangled and attached to the waste. Every place that you look there would be plastic bags, bottle caps, and discarded plastic lighters that had been left and forgotten. While you’re surrounded by all of the garbage and waste you can see, 70 percent of the plastic has found its way into your food, and sunk into the ground to break down to dangerous toxins. While you think a plastic dump site twice the size of the second largest state in the continental United States could never happen, it’s happening in the Pacific Ocean right now. 300 tons of plastic is produced globally, and ten percent of that plastic ends up in our seas each year. The effect that this plastic has on the aquatic life and on our clean drinking water is significant and I’ll be exploring the effects of pollution, even when we can’t see all of those effects directly.
This all leads me to wonder what the long term effect that the plastic waste dump and pollution has on our oceans. What direction can we go to prevent the amount of pollution and plastic waste from increasing, while also improving on the damage that has already been done? It is important to look at environmental issues with climate change on a global perspective, and then using that information to focus on the local impact it has on our community to bring social awareness to all community members.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the U.S. Federal government. The Environmental Protection Agency’s mission statement is “(We) were created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by congress” (Pruitt, Scott Pg.2). brought to my attention the issue of waste being dumped into the ocean by big corporations and the affects it has on the aquatic life. The Agency’s agenda is focused on the increase of waste that’s been dumped into the ocean over the years. Before the year 1972, communities around the world were using the ocean for waste disposal without thinking about the lasting affects it had on the environment. Some of the waste poured into the ocean before 1972 included one-hundred million tons of petroleum products, thirty-eight million tons of dredged material, and four million tons of industrial waste, just to name a few (Pruitt, Scott). The united states environmental protection agency wants to stop the progression of waste and other pollution from going into the Pacific Ocean and other water sources. The environmental protection agency states that “For nearly 45 years, EPA’s Ocean Dumping Management Program has stopped many harmful materials from being ocean dumped, worked to limit ocean dumping generally, and worked to prevent adverse impacts to human health, the marine environment, and other legitimate uses of the ocean (e.g., navigation, fishing) from pollution caused by ocean dumping.” (Pruitt, Scott).
While it is very important to focus on the damage that has been done to the ocean and aquatic life, I believe it is essential to focus on protection agencies that have begun to pick up the pieces that have occurred by generations of damage. The United States Protection Agency have put acts in to place that allows limitation on the pollution that goes into the ocean. This means that Big corporations have a limit on the amount of waste they put into the ocean, including not allowing wastes that negatively effect the aquatic life and water sources.
While conducting research on the affects the pollution has on aquatic life, I came across the State of California Ocean Protection Council. The councils goal is to bring social awareness to the issue of pollution in our oceans, while also addressing how to regulate the disposal of waste in our water sources. The protection council stated that “Scientific research demonstrates that debris in the oceans is increasing at an alarming rate: plastic debris in an area north of Hawaii known as the Northwest Pacific Gyre has increased 5-fold in the last 10 years. In the Southern Ocean, the amount of plastic debris increased 100 times during the early 1990s” (Phillips, Jennifer Pg. 1). This is very significant because it brought upon the implementation strategy to reduce and prevent ocean litter. The report aimed to a prompt in how California generates, handles, and disposes of waste when related to what goes into the ocean.
The implementation strategy to reduce and prevent ocean litter made it so that pollution going into the ocean was regulated and limited to big corporations. The protection Council stated that “It poses serious threats to marine wildlife, including sea birds, turtles and mammals such as dolphins and whales, as well as human health and welfare” (Phillips, Jennifer). The quote is important because it shows the effects that the pollution has had on the aquatic life in the pacific ocean. I found many connections between the State of California Ocean Protection agency and the US environmental protection Agency. Both Agency’s are focusing on the well being of marine wildlife, and the effect it has on our healthy, our communities, and on big corporations.
The third source that I came across came from the ecology global network which focuses on the Pacific Ocean Plastic Waste Dump. This is a huge plastic waste dump in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of the continental United States. Some of the pollution in the Pacific Ocean Plastic Dump includes plastic from bottles, food wrappers, plastic containers and many other sources. The problem with this Waste dump besides the fact that there is this much garbage floating around in the Pacific Ocean, is that the plastic particles have separated and the ocean has absorbed the pollution (Fitzgerald, Ed). The northern Pacific plastic dump is deceptive to the eye. While it contains huge amounts of plastic waste it is not all floating on the surface.
The Ecology Global Network stated that “Wave action and the heat of the sun degrades the plastic into smaller and smaller particles which can form a sinking toxic soup that extends down to 6 meters below the ocean’s surface” (Fitzgerald, Ed). This is important because enough of the plastic is floating on the surface which creates a false habitat for plant and animal organisms. That false habitat is not a good one, chemicals from the plastic can be soaked into the organism and does give the proper nutrients or home that the plant or animal organism needs. After they have attached to the floating plastic it is beyond their normal ecosystems, and they can’t escape the waste.
Locally, Washington and lake Whatcom face have been affected by pollution in our water sources. One of the major forms of pollution that goes into the Puget sound comes from Big corporations like oil companies. The Oil Transfer Operations Advisory Committee is a committee that focuses on Pollution in the Puget sound. Many of the Oil spills into the Pacific Ocean are classified as a point source pollution, which means that the pollution in the Puget comes from several sources, instead of just one. Even small oil spills threaten wildlife and water quality, and the impact of a large spill can be catastrophic. Oil kills seabirds, fish and marine mammals and persists in the environment for years, even when the best possible cleanup technology is applied. I wanted to include the oil spill in the Puget sound because it began occurring during the middle of my research. I found it ironic that while I was researching how to reverse the damage that has been done to our water sources, we’re creating more damage to the Puget sound and other water sources.
In my research on local water sources I was surprised to find out that Western Washington University works closely with the city to monitor water quality trends in Lake Whatcom. Lake Whatcom water quality is extremely important to our community because the water that the county drinks comes from lake Whatcom. To see the impact that pollution had on Lake Whatcom I wanted to see first hand what kind of pollutions was along the beaches, and the edges of water that can be seen. For my observation I headed to lake Whatcom to see if there was a large amount of plastic that had ended up on the beaches. To my surprise there wasn’t as much as I had found noticed when I visited an ocean beach. I spent an hour on the beach and found 3 plastic water bottles, 1 plastic bag, and 6 different forms of plastic from food wrappers. There is a large community of houses and people that live around the lake and are closely connected to the beaches.
I became curious if any of the sewer or pollution from the houses along the water source ended up in the lake. I did my research through the city of Bellingham. According to the city of Bellingham they have taken actions to improve the water quality of Lake Whatcom. What can occur is damage done to the water source from people throwing their garbage in it. Since Lake Whatcom is the source of water for the Whatcom community, I am curious if they have puts acts in action to protect the water source after in 1998, Lake Whatcom was placed on Washington’s list of polluted bodies of water. Along with the help of the institute for watershed studies at WWU, the county, and the city they created a watershed management strategy that improves the quality of water in Bellingham's lake. It was satisfying knowing that the city of Bellingham and Whatcom county care about the quality of our water, and how it impacts our community and the communities around us.
Pollution in our water sources have way more of an impact then we could imagine. Maybe you go to your local beach and don’t see any plastic or pollution laying in the sand. That doesn’t mean it isn’t having a direct impact to you. Think about the garbage patch floating around in the ocean, those chemicals can be affecting the fish that we might be buying and consuming from our local grocery store. For me, I have discovered that I want to know where the water I’m drinking is coming from.
It is important to bring social awareness to communities about issues that effect us. Whether you’re concerned about oil spills, pollution in our water sources, or any other environmental issues we must come together as a community to improve on these issues. No issue can be changed completely over one night but we much step in a direction of improvement so that generations to come can enjoy our communities and environment as much as we do.
Benson, Maggy Hunter. “Ocean Trash Plaguing Our Sea.” Ocean Portal | Smithsonian. Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, 23 Aug. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
California, State Of. “Preventing Ocean Litter | California Ocean Protection Council.” Organization Title. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
Espinoza, Richard. “Chemical Waste That Impact on Aquatic Life or Water Quality.” IDR Hazardous Waste Disposal Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
Pacific Ocean Plastic Waste Dump.” Ecology Global Network. N.p., 23 Oct. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What Is the Biggest Source of Pollution in the Ocean?” NOAA’s National Ocean Service. N.p., 08 Oct. 2008. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.