Plastic Pollution Essay
Many individuals underestimate the amount of plastic we use each day. According to the article “Plastic Bags Wars”, “the world consumes 1 million plastic shopping bags every minute”. Plastic bags, along with many other types of plastics, have become a leading source of pollution worldwide (Doucette). Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita foundation states that we use two million plastic bottles in the United States every five minutes. Discovered by Charles Moore in 1997, the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is a prime example of the amount of plastic pollution that enters the ocean from land.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been described as a filthy plastic collage of discarded cups, straws, lids, bags, and food container’s. These giant patches of plastic debris have also been identified as the nation’s most significant marine debris problem (Murphy). This enormous amount of plastic pollution on our beaches and in our oceans is harming humans and marine life; therefore, to stop this global issue, we must prevent plastics from entering our oceans. The Center for Marine Conservation, an environmental group based in Washington, states that the number one source of debris on beaches from Santa Monica Hinton 2 o Miami is plastic trash (Murphy).
In the past, ships out at sea have been the main cause of plastics in the ocean, dumping 14 billion pounds of garbage into the ocean every year (Amaral). Before the use of plastic, trash dumped overboard consisted of natural materials that would sink to the bottom biodegrade quickly (Amaral). Today, Plastic that is thrown into the sea floats on the surface and can remain so for 400 years (Amaral). Although there is now a law making it illegal to dump plastics into the ocean, it is difficult to enforce and ensure that ships are not polluting our oceans.
How does trash make it’s way into the ocean? In “Better Planet Garbage Patch”, Kositgen points out that the reason for trash entering the ocean is pretty straightforward. He explains, for example, that “when a cup gets blown off the beach in, say, San Francisco, it gets caught in the California Current which makes it way down the coast toward Central America”(Kostigen). Just one piece of trash that enters the ocean is taken around the world by the various currents in the ocean. According to “Beaches Drowning in Plastic Pollution”, a study was conducted to analyze the amount of trash collected on beaches across America.
In Los Angeles County, nearly 68% of debris collected for the survey was some form of plastic (Murphy). A total of more than three million pieces of debris were recorded, just a small portion of the amount of trash thrown on our beaches. Local official’s in Santa Monica state that most of the plastic collected in the survey was the result of beach visitors tossing aside their trash. During the summer months at Santa Monica Beach, maintenance crews collected twelve tons of garbage on the weekends.
According to Kostigen, “the UNEP reports that today 80 percent of all marine debris that Hinton 3 washes ashore – such as trash and toxic matter – originally comes from shore-based activities”(Kostigen). A large portion of plastic pollution, however, is flushed into the ocean from storm drains, rivers, and creeks. According to Murphy, “during heavy rainstorms, the drains and waterways act as huge siphons, dumping the debris directly in the ocean” (Murphy). It is obvious that we cannot control the weather but what we can control is our actions. Instead of tossing aside our trash onto the beach, we must dispose of the trash properly.
Murphy reports that members of the marine conservation center conclude “that the general public poses a major threat to beaches and marine life”(Murphy). Although we cannot collect every existing piece of plastic in the ocean, we can organize beach cleaning to further prevent more trash from entering the ocean. During a 1993 coastal cleanup, over 3. 1 million pounds of trash was collected, more than half of it was plastic. (Amaral). The lack of proper disposal of trash is contributing to the existing problem of plastic pollution. Without changing our habits, the garbage patch will only continue to grow (Kostigen).
In “Better Planet Garbage Patch”, Thomas Kostigen tells his experience of traveling to the Eastern Garbage Patch to witness this growing problem first-hand. Kostigen describes this area to be one and a half times the United States with a depth of 100 feet or more (Krostigen). The size of this garbage patch is so massive, encompassing around ten million square miles of the North Pacific Gyre. On the other hand, according to “An Ocean of Plastic”, Doucette claims that nobody knows its exact size or if it has any boundaries at all. (Doucette).
Although there have been many estimations on the size Hinton 4 of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the exact size remains unknown. In addition, Doucette warns us that this patch contains more than ten million tons of waste. She describes the area to be a “fetid swamp of debris where tiny bits of decaying plastic outweigh zooplankton- one of the most prolific and abundant organisms on the planet- by a ration of six-to-one”(Doucette). It is now apparent that the amount of plastic particles residing in our oceans is damaging the natural habit and this trash is not going anywhere.
Due to the currents in the ocean, plastic particles are constantly moving in “gyres”, some eventually making its way to the center of a series of currents also known as the Pacific Garbage Patch. Trash that is caught in these gyres are constantly moving in the circular currents, for months, years, and even decades at a time. Because plastic is not biodegradable, these plastic pieces remain in our oceans while releasing chemical additives and plasticizers into the ocean (Kostigen).
In “An Ocean of Plastic”, Moore points out that the North Pacific Gyre, where the Great Pacific Garbage Patch resides, is only one of the five major gyres in the world’s oceans. He emphasizes that “half of the world’s oceans are accumulators- these high pressure gyres that bring stuff into themselves, and every single one of them is full of plastic”(Moore qtd. in Doucette). It is evident that the amount of plastic that enters the ocean from land must be stopped or this global epidemic will only continue to grow.
The only way we can prevent plastics from contributing to plastic pollution is by changing our actions. The amount of plastics in our oceans has made a huge impact on marine life, endangering many species and disturbing their natural habitat. In “An Ocean of Plastic”, Doucette states that the “United Nations Environment Program estimates that plastic Hinton 5 debris kills more than 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds every year”(Doucette). The amount of plastics in the ocean is killing innocent sea life at an alarming rate.
According to “Plastics in our Oceans”, plastics alarming effect on marine mammals was first discovered in the late 1970s, when scientists from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory “concluded that plastic entanglement was killing up to 40,000 seals a year”(Amaral). These seals become entangled in plastic netting, constricting the seal’s movements, and eventually killing them of starvation or exhaustion. (Amaral). When fishermen dispose of their netting in the ocean, many species are in danger because this netting is not a natural part of their habitat.
Amaral shows us the devastating affects plastics have on marine life, when a humpback whale tangled in 50 to 100 feet of net washed up on a beach in Cape Cod. Like Amaral, Kostigen acknowledges the dangers of fishnets used by fisherman out at sea. He warns us that “twenty-mile castaway fishnets snare sea turtles, dolphins, and other animals, endangering their populations”(Kostigen). While the various types of plastic thrown into the ocean is physically harming marine life, many species are also ingesting the plastic. In “Beaches Drowning in Plastic Pollution”, Murphy emphasizes the hazardous repercussion’s plastic has on marine life.
Plastic bags are often confused for jellyfish and transparent organisms, the main food for a variety of species such as sea turtles (Murphy). Although these creatures are able to swallow these plastic bags, they are unable to digest them. Small plastic particles that float around in the ocean are mistaken for food and swallowed by small birds, eventually killing them. Plastic rings, used to hold six-packs of cans, have been reported to harm Hinton 6 marine life. Murphy states that fish may become tangled in these rings when young, and sliced to death as they outgrow the rings (Murphy).
In “Better Planet Garbage Patch”, Kostigen interviews Captain Charles Moore on the impact plastic pollution has on sea life. According to Moore, “Ninety percent of Laysan Albatross chick carcasses and regurgitated stomach contents contain plastics” (Moore qtd. in Kostigen). Similar to Murphy, Moore explains that seabirds mistake plastic particles for food. In a talk lecture with Charles Moore, he explains that plastic bottle caps are not recycled under the bottle bills. Because plastic caps float on the surface of the ocean, Albatross chicks mistake these caps for food.
As a result, “hundreds and thousands of these goose size chicks are dying with stomachs full of bottle caps and other rubbish”(Moore). The plastic pollution in our oceans is killing many species of marine life because of the amount of waste we throw on our streets and beaches. When we toss one piece of trash onto the beach, that one piece eventually goes into the ocean and may be consumed by a seabird, causing them to choke to death. In “Plastics in Our Oceans”, Amaral reports that small plastic particles have been found “in the stomachs of sixty-three of the world’s approximately 250 species of seabirds” (Amaral).
According to these sources, it is apparent that many species of marine life are in danger due to the extensive amount of plastic pollution in the ocean. Not only is the vast amount of plastics harming all marine life, it is also harming humans as well. In addition to the devastating affects plastic pollution has on marine life, it is also affecting humans and the food we eat. According to “Better Planet Garbage Patch”, Hinton 7 Moore describes how plastic pollution is affecting our natural food chain. He explains, “Plastic adsorbs hydrophobic pollutants like PCBs and pesticides like DDT.
These pollutants bioaccumluate in the tissues of marine organisms, biomagnify up the food chain, and find their way into the foods we eat” (Moore qtd. in Kostigen). By eating foods that contain these pollutants, we are ingesting harmful toxins that can be hazardous to our health. In “An Ocean of Plastic”, Doucette speculates that many small organisms like jellyfish and zooplankton have started to ingest the tiny bits of plastic in our oceans (Doucette). In addition to Moore, she adds that “these species, the very foundation of the oceanic food web, are becoming saturated with plastic, which may be passed farther up the food chain” (Doucette).
The prolific amount of plastic thrown in our oceans is destroying the natural food chain. According to “An Ocean of Plastic”, “the concern is what the plastic is carrying and releasing into organisms that ingest it”(Barn-ford qtd. in Doucette). By ingesting food that contains plastic we are exposing ourselves to toxic chemicals like PCB’s and DDT. These harmful chemicals have been linked to liver damage, skin lesions and cancer. Many species such as fish now contain harmful toxins due to the harsh chemicals released from the plastic. According to Kostigen, around 2. billion people rely upon fish for a fifth of their protein (Kostigen).
He points out that when fisheries become polluted, so does the fish we consume. Based on his past observations, Moore believes that all food in the ocean contains plastic. If we do not change our habits of throwing thousands of pounds of trash into our oceans, most, if not all of the seafood we rely on to survive will be full of toxins and pollutants. Hinton 8 Cleaning up our beaches to prevent more plastic from entering our oceans can be effective; however, the key solution is to try and create biodegradable plastics or eliminate plastics all together.
According to “An ocean of Plastic”, Kostigen insists that “the only way to stop the spread of plastic into the world’s food chain…is to reduce the amount of plastic we use”(Kostigen). He feels that if we reduce our production of plastic, the amount that eventually enters the ocean will decline dramatically. The production of plastic bags, for example, is something that many individuals should think twice about using. Some countries such as China have already banned the use of plastic bags.
Doucette warns us that plastic bags litter the world’s beaches, and fuel a massive flow of plastic waste that is killing wildlife from sea turtles to camels (Doucette). Although we cannot stop the production of plastic entirely, we can try and produce only photodegradable and biodegradable plastics. Some states have already passed laws requiring certain plastics such as six-pack holders, to be biodegradable. If we can reduce the production of plastic drastically, the amount of plastic used around the world will prevent more plastic from entering our oceans in the future.
Although Plastic manufacturers are investigating ways to create “degradable plastics”, the affects of plastic pollution in the ocean is harming all marine life. The alarming factor is that the exact amount of plastic in the ocean is unknown. Because of the enormous amount of plastic particles floating in the ocean, it is now clear that most marine species, if not all, are ingesting these particles. Since plastic particles contain harmful toxins, we can now almost be certain that every marine species has been exposed to harmful chemicals. Many countries around the world rely on fish for food.
When we Hinton 9 consume fish caught from the ocean, we are now ingesting plastic particles which ultimately, causes many health problems. It is impossible to clean up every piece of plastic in the oceans but what we can do is change our habits of littering on our beaches. In order to stop this global problem from growing, we must prevent plastics on land from entering our oceans while cleaning up as much as we possibly can. Without changing our habits, we can be sure that this alarming amount of plastic pollution will only continue to grow.