Week 2: Scary Ocean Stories – The Plastic Apocalypse
This October, we have shocking news – the plastic apocalypse is upon us! When we analyze our consumer society, we begin to notice that plastic is everywhere from single-use plastic water bottles, floss, fibers in our clothes, and even plastic toys our beloved pets play with. According to the report, Our Planet is Drowning in Plastic, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every single year with 50% of that created for the sole purpose of throwing it away. These types of plastics include plastic packaging to enclose meats, fruits, and vegetables at the supermarket, as well as plastic bottle caps.
However, when plastic items are “thrown away” these items continue to live on in different forms. Plastics never biodegrade, but instead, break down into smaller and smaller pieces. In fact, about 79% of all the plastic that’s ever been made still exists on Earth. Unfortunately, the amount of plastic produced is only expected to increase with society’s insatiable appetite for the convenience of disposable plastic products. And, the plastic apocalypse will continue unless action is taken immediately.
Problems of The Plastic Apocalypse
As discussed in our plastic pollution blogs, plastic continues to pose a problem for the health of our planet. An estimated 8.5 million metric tons of plastic enters the marine environment each year, which is equivalent to an entire garbage truck of plastic entering the ocean every minute, 365-days a year. Because plastic does not biodegrade but photodegrades into nano pieces, plastic continues to be an environmental crisis posing threat to the health of our planet, animals, and ultimately us. Three main issues of the plastic pollution problem include ingestion, entanglement, and toxicity.
Ingestion. When plastic enters the ocean, it is often mistaken for food by marine life. Plastic debris can resemble common food prey, such as jellyfish and small fish, and can cause serious issues and even death to threatened and endangered marine species. At Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC), our researches have found that nearly 100% of post-hatchling sea turtles that enter our hospital have plastics in their stomachs. When an animal ingests plastics it can become impacted in the animals’ intestines and cause starvation.
Entanglement. Disposable plastic debris like balloon ribbons, bottle cap rings, disposable masks, and other human-made trash items can have serious consequences on our marine life. When swimming in the ocean, marine life can encounter debris and become entangled in it. When an animal becomes entangled in marine debris, it can cause severe wounds, loss of a limb or body part, drowning, strangulation, and potentially death. For instance, our Center received a sea turtle patient, Margaret Ingels, with a monofilament fishing line entangled on all four flippers and around the turtle’s neck. Routinely, our hospital receives patients, just like Margaret, that have become entangled in marine debris.
Toxicity. Due to plastic’s porous nature, when plastic items are in the ocean they absorb the toxins and chemicals they come in contact with. Through a process called biomagnification, when plastic is ingested by marine life at the very bottom of the food chain, these toxins work their way up becoming more and more potent as it reaches the top of the food chain. These toxic pieces not only affect marine life, but also humans who eat seafood. Since humans are at the top of the food chain, humans can absorb a high amount of toxins when eating marine life that has ingested plastics. Scientists have discovered that plastics are not only found in seafood, but also in other consumer food items, including sugar, honey, table salt, beer, snow, wind, and even rain.
The 2019 ICC Results Shed Light on Our Plastic Packaging Problem
The Ocean Conservancy’s 2019 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) report, found that food wrappers were the number one trash item removed from beaches worldwide during the 2019 cleanup event. During the event, almost one million volunteers in 116 countries collected a total of 4,771,602 food wrappers in a single day. Since the Ocean Conservancy’s first coastal cleanup 35 years ago, cigarette butts have topped the ICC report every year, but last year food wrappers surpassed them.
This report has shed a light on our consumer problem with plastic packaging, including chip bags, candy wrappers, breakfast bar wrappers, and more. Because food wrappers are extremely light, it’s difficult for recycling equipment to process them. Additionally, food wrappers are generally composed of multiple layers of different types of plastics, which often make these items not recyclable. Currently, there are not any competitive alternatives to these types of packaging, however, some brands are exploring paper packaging options.
How Can You Help?
- Reduce. Disposable plastic has become a staple in everyday life, but as we’ve learned, that comes with a price. By being more conscious about the products we purchase and the packaging it comes in, consumers can shift the market to create long-lasting, positive change.
- Buy In Bulk. If sustainable packaging (like cardboard, glass, or aluminum) is not available, purchase items in bulk packaging instead of items that are individually wrapped. For example, instead of purchasing 100 individually wrapped coffee creamer packets, opt for a large carton of creamer.
- Recycle with Terracycle. Although reducing your waste is the absolute best option to help save the ocean, companies like Terracycle work to collect, recycle, and repurpose hard-to-recycle items, including chip bags and candy wrappers. To help combat the plastic apocalypse, we’ve partnered with Terracycle for our fifth Unwrap the Waves Candy Wrapper initiative, which helps reduce the amount of plastic waste that enters our oceans during the holidays.
- Clean Our Planet. To help remove plastic from our planet, participate in your nearest beach or waterway cleanup. When you participate in environmental organizations’, such as LMC cleanup events, you help collect crucial data about the marine debris harming our environment.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) is a nonprofit sea turtle research, rehabilitation and educational institution that promotes conservation of ocean ecosystems with a focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. The Center features an on-site hospital, research laboratory, educational exhibits and aquariums, and also operates the Juno Beach Pier, which hosts world-class angling and sightseeing. Situated on one of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches, Loggerhead Marinelife Center is open daily and hosts over 360,000 guests free-of-charge each year. The Center’s conservation team works with 90 local and international organizations across six continents to form partnerships and share conservation initiatives and best practices that are core to its mission of ocean conservation. The Center is expanding and has launched its Waves of Progress capital expansion campaign, designed to accelerate and amplify LMC’s conservation and education impact. For more information, visit www.marinelife.org or call (561) 627-8280.