Pollution on our planet has become a prominent issue throughout the world, yet, humans still produce and buy products that harm our environment and different ecosystems. One of the largest pollutants in our oceans’ waters are plastics. In 2014, plastic production exceeded 300 million tons and if the current growth of 5% per year continues, by 2050, 33 billion tons of plastic will be on the planet. Whether we notice it or not, most of the plastics polluting our oceans are caused directly by us and the products we use (See “Beat Plastic Pollution” by Loi Lone). Within the ocean there is an estimated 269,000 tons of plastic particles floating around waiting to be ingested by innocent organisms or infect their habitats (Walker, Xanthos 17).
To put things more into perspective, the amount of plastic in the ocean is equivalent to the weight of approximately 206,923 average sized cars! The fact that the world as a whole is not more widely concerned about this worsening issue is astounding. What we, as humans, do not realize is that most of this pollution is solely caused by us and our frequent use of and access to single-use plastics. Given the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean, there is a lot we as humans inhabiting the earth can do to limit our daily use of plastics and stop the growing amount of pollution in the ocean.
As early as the 1970’s, pollution by plastics has been reported repeatedly, but it has more recently escalated into a global issue rather than an issue in specific areas (Walker, Xanthos 17). If scientists were able to detect the pollution of plastics in the 1970’s with much less advanced technology in comparison to today, that alone proves itself to be a much more serious problem than the world is making it out to be.
Within the ocean’s waters, there is also an abundance of various other pollutants. For instance, there happens to be about 29 million gallons of petroleum that has found its way into the earth’s oceans. To help fix this problem over the years there has been new standards and regulations put into place in order to help minimize the amount of petroleum going into the water, yet nothing can limit it enough or erase the amount that is already in the ocean (Pianin 1).
Although petroleum is most definitely a large issue within the ocean, it still is miniscule compared to the amount of plastic pollution toxifying the waters today. The 29 million gallons of petroleum that is in the ocean is approximately 107,800 tons of petroleum which is nearly half of the amount of tons of plastic particles in the ocean! Petroleum pollution is much more publicized in the news than plastic pollution is, when in fact, plastic pollution is a much greater issue as of right now.
As the single use plastics enter the ocean, they can be categorized into two separate types of plastics. Macroplastics are typically larger than 5mm in diameter and are harder to be ingested by sea life (Walker, Xanthos 18). However, when marine animals do ingest these macroplastics, it is much more physically harmful than smaller plastics. In one case, a straw became somehow lodged in a sea turtle’s nostril and had to be painfully removed by hand (See “Sea Turtle with Straw Up It’s Nostril” by Sea Turtle Biologist). The video has blown up and gone viral, showing humanity the effects of daily use of plastics since we wouldn’t necessarily imagine that to be the end result of using a straw at first thought (Sea Turtle Biologist, Youtube).
Then, this triggered some responses by certain cafes, restaurants and other various food places. Recently, after visiting Sante Fe restaurant in Newark, Delaware, I noticed they did not automatically hand us straws accompanying our drinks. Then I came to notice that they have an ad with a picture of the turtle stating “Save the turtles — straws only available upon request.” Propaganda like this makes one think twice about the use of a straw and how it is a single use plastic that we could easily eliminate from our lives since it is practically unnecessary.
As well as Santa Fe, Starbucks also located in Newark, Delaware on main street is also making efforts to tackle pollution by eliminating straw usage and replacing them with recyclable plastic lids with holes in them (See “Starbucks Nitro Lid Gif” by Carly Schimmel and “Stop Sucking by Lonely Whale”). There are thousands of Starbucks chains located across the globe so even though the elimination of straws seems minuscule compared to the amount of pollution in the ocean, if this new trend grows, it could make strides towards keeping our waters clean of macroplastics.
Even larger than macroplastics, is the floating and stranded pieces of debris that are easily visible to the human eye and could cause more physical damage to marine life. Macroplastics such as straws are able to get lodged places that these large items cannot, but they could also cause greater physical damage. For instance, many fisherman lose plastic items such as nets, fishing line, and louers which could trap and entangle animals and their limbs (Walker, Xanthos 18). This could then prevent them from swimming, making them susceptible to becoming prey which can easily lead them to a shorter lifespan. Along with being trapped or entangled in these items comes suffering and the panic of being immobile which draws even more attention to the animals’ vulnerability. If the animal does not die from becoming a meal for another, it could die just from injury.
On the opposite side of the ruler are microplastics which are classified as plastics less than 5mm in diameter (Walker, Xanthos 18). These plastics are much more difficult to detect in the ocean by just the human eye. These can also be grouped into primary microplastics and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are plastics that were specifically created to be made less than 5mm as they were being made while secondary microplastics were not intentionally made to be that small. Plastics fragments that have broken off of larger plastics over time that are less than 5mm would fit into this category of secondary microplastics. Because of their tiny size, many people do not realize exactly how harmful they can be to marine life and even us. Microplastics can be found floating on the top of the water, laying along the shoreline or on the seabed (Walker, Xanthos 18).
One extremely common microplastic is found in daily items that one would not expect. If one has ever bought any type of exfoliant, typically in facially exfoliants, thousands of microbeads can be found in these. Specifically, 330,000 microbeads on average are washed down the drain with each 7oz bottle of facial exfoliant containing these tiny plastics (Martin 1). Clean and Clear, an extremely popular facial cleansing brand among all ages, is one company that constantly uses microbeads in their cleansers.
If you hold the wash under water and cup your hands, once the liquid in between the microbeads dilutes and washes away, you will be able to easily see exactly how many microbeads come from one bottle, used by one person, at one point in time (See BBC WBGH by Pri). If you multiply that by as many people who buy the product over and over again, the issue becomes evident. Of course, no one wants to change a trusted face scrub, but, when it is harming the environment to this extent it is time to reconsider. Most companies choose to resort to this product simply because it is cheaper than using natural products such as crushed nuts, oats and other various possible ingredients. However, there are available products that contain natural exfoliants to avoid this type of pollution in efforts to save our planet. These tiny plastics are extremely harmful to marine life, both big and small. Even though harming large marine life is detrimental to the environment, having small enough plastics to harm smaller organisms may be even more harmful with the way it can travel through our food chains.
One overwhelmingly concerning find was the discovery that zooplankton, one of the lowest organisms in the marine food chain, were mistakenly ingesting microplastics, such as these microbeads, for food. Since they are barely visible due to their opaque look, as they are lying on the ocean floor they can be easily mistaken for what a zooplankton would normally eat (Desforges, 320).
The much larger issue with this though, is how far now these microbeads are traveling in our food chains. Considering how many marine animals ingest zooplankton it is easily seen as damaging to these organisms. However, the organisms who eat zooplankton will now also have ingested those microbeads as well. Eventually, Humans could be ingesting microbeads at the dinner table too. It is estimated that if this trend keeps up, salmon will be eating roughly 2–7 microbead particles per day and in turn, human adults will be ingesting approximately 90 microbeads or microbead particles per day (Desforges 320).
More indirectly, is the effect that pollution is having on our planet as a whole. Beaches, shorelines and vacation getaway spots are supposed to be beautiful, clean and relaxing. However, if the beaches are littered with microplastics, macroplastics and other larger single use plastics, no one is going to want to vacation where it is not clean. Not only is this displeasing to the human eye, but it is also unsanitary, especially to families with little children. In turn, this unfortunate appearance caused by humans can affect humans economically (Matsangou 1). If tourism rates go down due to the lack of desire to visit these polluted beaches, the popularity and income of that touristic town will also be diminished. Some beach towns and even countries try to survive off of whatever money they receive from tourists that do not live there. If locals become a tourist town’s only source of income, that may not amount to be enough to keep the town in a strong economic state. Humans created an issue for pollution, and now pollution is creating an issue for us.
Lack of tourism is not the only thing affecting the economy when it comes to pollution, though. If vessels such as boats are sucking up macro plastics and microplastics, it could be damaging to the boat’s health as a whole too. Boats are very lucrative when it comes to transportation of people, goods and other things, but if pollution is then affecting the way boats run, less and less boats will be able to ship goods and people. Without this income, the overseas industry will fall, once again creating economic issues (Matsangou 1). Our country can produce many items but some are much cheaper to be made overseas rather than in the united states. This can also effect us economically because if boats are being damaged through pollution in the ocean and cannot travel anymore, more products will have to be made in the country. In turn, we as citizens will have to buy more expensive products.
Globally though, some standards have began to change (See “Plastic Bag Bans by Dave Grunland). For instance, the Lanzarote Declaration was signed in Europe in attempts to move closer toward the goal of a cleaner environment. In summation, the declaration states that as humans it is nothing less than a responsibility to be aware and cautious of products we buy and use that could cause pollution in the future (“Lanzarote Declaration” 1).
Along with that, the country of Mauritania has more than 70% of their sheep and cattle dying from the consumption of plastic bags so in 2013, the country decided to ban the manufacturing, using and importing of plastic bags, helping not only their wildlife but the world as a whole. Many other countries around the globe have decided to lessen the thickness of the plastic bags in hopes of reducing the waste it brings. The US has yet to pass a federally mandated law but many states are individually taking action in the war with pollutants.
If the people of the world collectively continue to make strides against pollution we will overall become a better world. Even if the movements are slight changes in daily lifestyle such as switching what facial wash you use or using straws less, it will eventually help. The effects of pollution are various and detrimental to ecosystems, marine life and economy and its time the world begins realizing this and taking it more seriously.
Desforges, Jean-Pierre W., Galbraith, Moira, Ross, Peter. “Ingestion of . Microplastics by Zooplankton in the Northeast Pacific Ocean.” SpringerLink. Volume 69, Issue 3, October 2015, pp. 320–330.
“Lanzarote Declaration.” Edited by Zhiwei Zhu, Research Centre CEARC, Jean-Paul.
Matsongou, Elizabeth. “Counting the Cost of Plastic Pollution.” World Finance, 2 July 2018.
Pianin, Eric. “Little Petroleum Spills’ Big Effects; Pipelines, Tankers Account for
Fraction of Ocean Pollutants.” The Washington Post, May 24 2002, ProQuest. Web. 22 Oct. 2018.
“Sea Turtle with Straw Up It’s Nostril.”Youtube. Sea Turtle Biologist. August 10th, 2015. Web.
Walker, Tony R and Xanthos, Dirk. “International Policies to Reduce Plastic Marine Pollution from Single Use Plastics.” Marine Pollution Bulletin. Volume 118, №1, 2017, pp 17–26.
Martin, Kristina. “Plastic Microbeads — They’re In Face Wash, Body Scrubs, Toothpaste, and Our Food.” Organic Lifestyle Magazine, 21 Apr. 2018.
Art Works Cited
Grunland, Dave. “Plastic Bag Bands.” Davegrunland.com, Grundland, Dave. April 2014. https://www.davegranlund.com/cartoons/2014/04/10/plastic-bag-bans/.
Lone, Lai. “Beat Plastic Pollution.” cartoonmovement.com. June 6th, 2018. https://www.cartoonmovement.com/cartoon/49597
Lonely Whale. “Stop Sucking.” Giphy.com, August 24th, 2018. Lonely Whale. https://giphy.com/gifs/lonelywhale-blue-61Sk26nVLSyREvwl4g.
Pri. “BBC WGBH.” Giphy.com. September 30th, 2015. https://giphy.com/gifs/pri-neutrogena-foaming-scrub-microbeads-3oEduNNnzvmD9cwyti
Sea Turtle Biologist. “Sea Turtle with Straw Up his Nose.” Youtube. Sea Turtle Biologist. August 10th, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wH878t78bw.