Plastic – a global epidemic

Plastic – a global epidemic
As the world population increases, so does the global production and consumption of plastics. Plastic has some amazing properties – it is versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant, strong, and relatively inexpensive. These attractive traits have lead to an insatiable appetite and over-consumption of plastic goods by us humans. Unfortunately, this comes at an extremely heavy cost.

Plastic waste in our oceans has increasingly become a major health risk for humans and marine life. It is estimated that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in our ocean, which are ingested by fish and marine birds. Eventually, these microplastics end up in the fish we eat.

Today, there are more than 8 million tons of plastic that enter the world’s oceans each year. At the current rate of plastic entering oceans, recent studies estimate that there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish, in weight, by 2050.

Plastic waste knows no boundaries. Farquhar atoll in Seychelles is considered one of the most beautiful and remote places on earth. Unfortunately, it too is overwhelmingly littered with plastic.

The sea trash on the shores of the Farquhar (Photo credit: Aurelie Duhec/ICS Seychelles)
It is likely that the sea trash could be originating from the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch, a vast collection of floating plastics, discarded fishing equipment and broken-down pieces of plastic polymers that pose a huge threat to the fish, marine mammals and birds, who often mistake them for food.

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Unfortunately, Farquhar is not the only pristine region in Seychelles that is experiencing foreign litter buildup. On a recent trip to an isolated inner island, I came across this bottle amongst a pile of other debris. Further investigation of the label indicates that the bottle company originates from China, and the barnacles show that the bottle travelled an extensive distance across the globe to wash up on our sandy shores.

Plastic has even permeated into areas never before thought possible. In a recent study at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, a group of scientists have discovered plastic in the stomachs of crustaceans living miles below the ocean surface in deep trenches. In fact, every animal that was analyzed in the study from the Mariana Trench, the deepest in the world at seven miles, had ingested plastic.

While the amount of plastic entering the world’s oceans continues to dramatically increase, we do see some efforts of increase recycling rates and use of recycled materials. However, this increase will likely be offset by the need for more plastic bottles, bags, cutlery, etc. as global populations increase.

This will continue to be a challenge future generations must face as global populations continue to increase and consumption along with it. Fortunately, there are solutions to the use of plastics and we do have the technology to utilize more degradable packaging. For example; learn to wean yourself off disposable plastics by carrying a reusable grocery bag on a next shopping trip, bringing silverware to the office instead of using disposable cutlery, carrying a reusable water bottle instead of buying water, boycotting beauty products such as facial scrubs, toothpaste and body washes that contain plastic microbeads, buy in bulk to limit packaging, and supporting businesses that promote smarter, recyclable packaging, rather than others that do not.

Plastic is everyone’s problem.  Play your part in helping to sustain our planet for future generations.

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