The invention of synthetic polymers was initially lauded by everyone. It could be moulded into any shape and size, and it was highly affordable. As long as it was produced in limited quantities, reused over prolonged periods and disposed of responsibly, plastic was a useful commodity.
But over the years, the amount of plastic produced has been gradually increasing without any sustainable mode of disposal. Nature enthusiasts have constantly voiced their concern over the excessive use of plastic and its ill effects on the environment.
One of the primary modes of plastic disposal has been dumping it in the oceans. The World Wildlife Fund has documented the adverse effects this has on marine life. Aquatic animals mistake the plastic for fish and consume it. This has led to the death of millions of fish and other ocean species. But the problem doesn’t stop there. Even birds of prey, mistake plastic for fish and die when they consume it.
As the production and usage of plastic continuously increase, so does the amount of non-biodegradable plastic waste that goes into the oceans. This in turn increases the number of deaths of both birds and fish. A 2006 survey by The United Nations Environment Program estimated that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. The survey also showed that plastic caused the death of over a million sea birds and 100,000 marine animals. The numbers have drastically increased over the past decade.
Research by the National Geographic Society shows a gigantic accumulation of plastic debris, spanning from the Western shores of North America to Japan. Called the Great Pacific Garbage patch or the pacific trash vortex, it comprises of Western Garbage Patch which is located near Japan and the Eastern Garbage Patch which is located near the US. The patch does not exactly look like a giant island, but rather comprises of tiny bits of plastic called ‘microplastics’. Almost 70% of the debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
Steps need to be taken to clear such debris and curb any addition to it. Governments have done their part by prohibiting sailors from dumping plastic waste overboard. But this is something the government cannot control once the ships are in the waters.
Rather than looking to the government for help, we the citizens should do our part in reducing the production of plastic. As long as there is a demand for it, the plastic industry is going to keep producing more and more.
The first step towards curbing plastic is by educating people. We should stop buying new plastic products and instead recycle and upcycle since it can be reused any number of times in many different forms.
By being a little imaginative and creative, all of us can play a big part in saving our oceans, the marine life and birds.