The future of our oceans is a topic that occupies the minds of environmentalists, celebrities and politicians these days. The disastrous impact of plastic pollution and what each of us can do to reverse the damaging process has finally reached our attention. But first, let me give you some insights on the problem and its consequences for all living creatures on earth.
Plastic is used in almost every household, from detergent and shampoo bottles to grocery bags, from our classic toothbrush to disposable tableware. The advantages the material offers are obvious; plastic is versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant, durable, and relatively inexpensive. However, our massive over-consumption is creating a threat to our environment we never faced before. Our planet is suffocating from the tons of waste produced every single day.
Unfortunately, only a minimal number of plastic items are getting recycled as most countries are lacking efficient systems, and the production of new plastics is simply cheaper than recycling used ones.
Consequently, lots of plastic ends up in regular trash bins to get burnt together with all other kinds of waste or is simply tossed in the bushes. The quality of being highly durable which makes plastic so attractive to use hits us in the neck when it comes to degradability. Plastic lasts for centuries so the waste we produce every single day is adding up in lightning speed.
Confronted with such threat, it is frustrating to contemplate that the entire problem could be avoided in the first place. Convenience, over-consumption, careless use and littering are the main contributors to the issue which is not only compromising flora and fauna but also us humans.
In 2015 experts revealed a staggering number of 19 billion pounds of plastic waste ending up in our oceans every year. Such amount would cover an area, 34 times the size of Manhattan! This number could double by 2025 if we don't significantly change our behaviour. It's obvious that we are not only dealing with an aesthetic problem but a global trauma whose consequences cannot even be anticipated entirely yet. To give you a clearer picture of the impact of plastic pollution on our planet, I collected 4 examples of what our current lifestyle is doing to our planet:
Death of Marine animals:
Our oceans are the natural habitat of marine mammals like whales, dolphins, seals, otters and polar bears as well as roundly 20,000 species of fishes and 350 species of marine birds. All those species depend on the oceans to feed themselves and their young. While hunting for food, aquatic animals are mistaking the colourful plastic debris for fish and plankton and end up with stomachs full of toxic and indigestible waste.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that plastic waste kills 100,000 marine mammals every year as well as millions of birds and fishes.
Death of Coral Reefs:
The negative impact of plastic waste is not only a threat to marine animals but is also increasingly endangering the life of corals. Items trapped in reefs are having a severe impact on coral health. In the Asia Pacific Oceans alone, more than 11 billion pieces of plastic can be found. Those pieces are not only blocking light and oxygen from corals but are also getting heavily inhabited by bacteria, infecting the corals with diseases. The contact of corals with plastic results in an 84% higher likelihood of coral diseases. Coral diseases are not reversible making the impact even more disastrous.
Many marine species rely on corals for food and protection so the death of coral reefs will result in the extinction of many other species.
Impact on Humans:
Plastic is a so-called long-lasting pollutant, meaning it is not biodegradable or not entirely breaking down. Even worse, although not biodegradable, plastic can be fragmented into tiny particles that are often not even visible to the human eye. Spreading across our oceans they are ultimately ingested by marine animals.
Studies by Dr Richard Thompson at the University of Plymouth, UK revealed already back in 2004 that those plastic particles can be found on beaches and waters in Europe, the Americas, Australia, Africa and Antarctica. What does this mean? The previously mentioned 19 billion pounds of plastic waste that float around in our oceans are slowly getting fragmented into tiny particles, ingested by fishes and landing back on our dinner plates. The impact on our health has yet to be revealed however the toxicity of plastic waste is a given.
Decrease of oxygen on our planet:
Have you ever asked yourself where the oxygen is coming from we are breathing every day and which is crucial to our survival?
Well, around 28% come from rainforests and a whopping 70% from our oceans. You might ask how the oceans can produce oxygen. It works like that. The oceans are home to marine plants like phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton that live in it. These plants need energy, same as all living organisms on this planet, which they achieve during photosynthesis. The byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen which makes this process a perfect symbiosis between land and sea and gives proof that mother nature is nothing short than a genius masterpiece.
So if we continue to destroy our rainforests and oceans, the time will come that we are running out of breath.
Sir David Attenborough, Broadcaster, conservationist and vice-president at Fauna & Flora International made the pollution of our oceans by plastic the main topic in the last episode of his latest series "The Blue Planet II". Being asked about how serious the issue is, he stated:
"It could hardly be more serious. I suppose, for me, the thing that is so galling about plastic pollution, in particular, is that it is so utterly unnecessary. The plastic in our oceans ought never to have got there in the first place – much of it perhaps ought not to have even been manufactured at all. And yet it is there, in unbelievable quantities, causing untold harm to marine wildlife.
And, of course, once it’s in the sea, it doesn’t really break down properly – it remains there for decades or even centuries. So unless we get to grips with this quickly, we will soon find our oceans completely dominated by plastic. It’s a prospect that hardly bears thinking about."
Watch here a trailer out of the last episode.
Reading all those devastating facts, you might feel overwhelmed by the damage that is already done. But don't surrender reality too early! It's not too late to reverse the train. Some countries already have some systems in place to support the reduction of waste; others don't. But even if you live in a country that's not at the forefront of environmental awareness, there is so much you can do on your own, with your family or with your community. Wouldn't it make you feel uplifting being an ambassador of such cause and inspiring people around you? Sounds good but you don't know where to start? No problem, I've got your back. Here are 11 ideas you may want to implement in your daily life. Some of them might seem insignificant, but if many people are making small changes in their lifestyle, it can have a huge impact.
1. Do you really need that plastic bag?
Many of you might have experienced it. You stop at the petrol station and, while filling up your gas, you feel like having a piece of candy. So you get into the store to give in your cravings. You buy that chocolate bar, and your sweet delight is handed out to you in a small plastic bag. You take that bag to the car, take out the candy and munch on it immediately. As it is a small bag, you don't know what to do with it so you toss it in the trash. That plastic bag had a purpose for no more than 10 seconds. Next time leave the bag at the counter and maybe even encourage the salesperson not to give them out unless customers explicitly as for one. It sounds so simple but can easily save hundreds of bags a day.
2. Say no to plastic straws
Lots of drinks are served with straws, especially in fast food chains but also traditional restaurants and bars. Inform your waiter while ordering that you don't want to have a plastic straw. If you can't let go of it, use a paper straw or bring a stainless steel straw.
3. Carry your groceries in a foldable trolley
Everybody has to do his groceries at least once a week. The produce aisle has plastic bags nicely placed everywhere to carry your lose items. Once you reach the cashier, your trolley is usually fully loaded and a friendly staff member might help you pack all your items in further plastic bags. You soon have 4, 5 or 6 bags in your trolley. Some well-thinking folks around you might reuse those bags as trash bags at home but why not avoid them in the first place? About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute, and a single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade! Simply get yourself a little portable trolley that can be folded away. You can comfortably move your trolley like a suitcase and don't even need to carry any bags.
4. Buy boxes, not bottles.
We can't avoid doing our laundry, but we can prevent additional trash by purchasing laundry detergent in carton boxes instead of plastic ones. Cardboard can be more easily recycled and made into more products than plastic.
5. Get your Starbucks in a tumbler
Who doesn't love his daily intake of coffee, especially in the morning on the way to work? But what is so comfortably offered for takeaway is producing a tremendous amount of waste. So why not taking a tumbler with you and getting your hot beverage the environmentally friendly way? Some shops are even giving discounts for bringing your own mug.
6. Skip the gum
Chewing gum was originally made from tree sap, but today synthetic rubber is used to produce the popular candy. So you're not only chewing on plastic but even on toxic plastic as its containing the chemical vinyl acetate which caused tumours in lab rats. Even though its possible to recycle chewing gum, the majority ends up in standard trash bins if not on the streets or in the bushes where they might further cause severe health risks to birds that are mistaking them for food.
7. Use regular coffee beans instead of coffee capsules
Coffee capsules are super trendy these days, especially among singles. And doesn't your daily jolt of caffeine taste even better if you imagine that Georges Clooney just freshly brewed it for you? However, capsules are not only multiple times more expensive than a regular pack of beans; those capsules produce a huge amount of waste. Technically, they are fully recyclable, and many of you may well-meaningly place them in the recycle bin. In fact, only a negligible amount of capsules are getting recycled, the rest ends up in the landfills. The reason is that those capsules are made of a mixture of aluminium and plastic which makes the recycling process not only difficult but expensive. In the year 2015, an estimated 3 million pods were consumed per day in Australia alone!
Companies like Nespresso are trying to come up with solutions to recycle the capsules, but the results so far are less than encouraging. So until a satisfying solution is found here the traditional pack of beans remains the best option.
8. Make your own juice
Instead of buying juice in plastic bottles, make your own freshly-squeezed juice or simply eat fresh fruit. Not only does this cut down on plastic waste, but it's also better for you because you'll be getting more vitamins and antioxidants and less high fructose corn syrup.
9. Clean green
There's no need for multiple plastic bottles of tile cleaner, toilet cleaner, and window cleaner if you have a few basics on hand like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon. So avoid those toxic chemicals by making your own cleaning products and save some trash and cash on top of it.
10. Prepare your own food instead of ordering online
Ordering food online became so convenient that regular food preparation at home feels like a dreadful task. Plenty of online applications are featuring a wide variety of restaurants, delivering your lunch right to your doorstep. However, the food packaging creates an immense amount of plastic waste that, in most cases, is not getting recycled. So rather prepare your own food at home and bring it to work in little containers. This will not only have a positive impact on nature, but also on your health and your wallet!
11. Don't litter!
Being out in nature is one of the best things to do. But those little camping adventures often end up in reckless littering. Disposable plates and cutlery are cheap, light to carry and easy to get rid of. This results in many great outdoor places sadly turning into dumps of trash. Show nature and others campers respect and take your trash with you once you leave the site. For an even more environmentally friendly experience, replace any disposable tableware with proper pick-nick equipment that can be washed and reused in your next outdoor adventure.
I hope those ideas are helping you reduce the amount of plastic in your household. Take additional steps by spreading them among your family, friends and community to make an even greater impact. And please don't forget to share your success stories with me! I can't wait to hear from you!