Plastic is a cheap useful material which has transformed our lives over the past few decades. From water bottles to smartphones, plastic is always at our fingertips. But, it also causes enormous damage to the environment, particularly to our oceans.
Covering over 70% of the planet, the ocean provides a home to countless species, keeps the air clean, serves as a valuable food source, and much much more. But this vital ecosystem is being damaged by pollution – including chemicals, industrial waste and oil spills, but plastic is the most serious of all.
It’s estimated that every year, eight million metric tons of plastic pollution ends up in our oceans, and this is predicted to increase by a huge ten times over the next decade. Plastic typically takes many decades to decompose, while some can take millions of years. Now, that’s a very long time!
Since its invention in 1852, most of the plastic produced on earth is still polluting the planet. Most plastic pollution comes from people who live in countries along the coastline, in particular those who live less than 30 miles from the beach. But even plastic transported to landfill sites can end up in the ocean – a simple gust of wind can blow waste into rivers, which delivers it back to the ocean.
There’s also a big problem with abandoned fishing equipment – it can entangle larger sea creatures, such as seals and dolphins, and break down into microplastics over time. Microbeads are another major factor – these are the tiny pieces of plastics found in toiletries like face scrub, shower gel and toothpaste that we use every day. Microbeads are often too small to be filtered out by wastewater plants, and so end up making their way into the sea.
In the ocean, small hungry fish can easily gobble up these tiny pieces of plastic, causing it to enter the food chain when they’re eaten by larger fish. Unsurprisingly, this does some damage to the sea life.
Simple changes, such as cutting down on single-use plastics can really help. Start using reusable carrier bags for your shopping, buy a steel straw and get toiletries from environmentally responsible retailers. Another easy thing to do, is to stop buying bottled water – simply buy a reusable bottle and top up as you go!
All of these things will help reduce your plastic pollution footprint, and although we have a long way to go before our oceans are clean and safe, these small steps can go a long way.