Reducing packaging waste in the world’s oceans is an extremely important topic to address as climate change worsens and Earth’s human population grows exponentially. One of the most alarming effects of plastic packaging in the oceans is its disturbing impact on marine life. Plastic packaging causes marine wildlife such as fish, dolphins, seabirds, whales, and turtles to die from suffocation and starvation. Marine life often mistakes plastics in the ocean for prey, consuming the plastic and then eventually dying from starvation as the animal’s stomach is filled. If the marine life does not consume the plastic, they often become tangled and entrapped in the packaging, causing the animal to die from suffocation and inability to escape. Apart from the detrimental effects that plastic has on ocean life, packaging waste also negatively effects the ocean’s ecosystem. Because this waste is often not biodegradable, packaging waste lingers in the ocean for generations. And, to make matters worse, plastic packaging waste in the ocean effects humans as well. The digestion of plastic by fish and other marine life considered “sea food”, then makes its way to human consumption when fishing activities are carried out. Because plastics contain chemicals that are toxic to human health, we must consider the effect that consuming sea food will have on human health as ocean pollution increases.

While these effects of packaging waste are detrimental to many aspects of our planet and daily lives, we do have options to decrease waste in the world’s oceans. In order to address the issue, we must first begin at a macro level and lobby with large companies that use unnecessary packaging. This will likely have the largest and most immediate effect on the issue of packaging waste in our oceans, as we will work to lessen the amount of packaging distributed to the public which will help control the size of the issue.

Upon addressing large corporation’s production and distribution of packaging, we must then address the issue within our communities and our very own households. First, increasing the access to recycling services with our community will help to manage the issue of the disposal of packaging waste. Creating incentives for recycling by providing information to the public regarding the importance of recycling within school systems and community events will encourage individuals to recycle their packaging waste instead of littering or discarding in landfills. Other incentives, such as some state’s decisions to begin charging for plastic grocery bags, helps address the issue by urging the public to consider their use of packaging that is often plastic or other non-biodegradable materials.

Then, we need to begin to manage our purchasing of plastic packaging. There are many ways to minimize ones use of plastic packaging. First, the promotion and use to carrying one’s reusable grocery bags, water bottles and coffee cups will ultimately decrease the demand for the production of single use plastics. If we are able to slow the demand and production of single use plastic packaging, we will see a decrease in the ocean pollution caused by these products. Next, buying in bulk will decrease the amount of packaging waste utilized in grocery hauls, as the packaging of a large amount of product is often less than that of many smaller products. Shopping for whole foods such as unpackaged fruits and vegetables, or loose products in the bulk section, will reduce packaging waste in the ocean as these products require little to no packaging at all. One can also actively choose to purchase products that require less packaging than their similar counterpart in order to reduce their contribution to the issue. Another personal effort to reduce the amount of packaging waste in the ocean is to reuse packaging as often as possible. Plastic bags, cans, containers and wrapping paper can all be regularly reused, slowing the demand for new product to be made. Tying into this, finding used products such as toys and other goods will reduce the issue as packaging is often only included when an item is bought brand new.

Over all, it is important that we address the issue of packaging waste in our oceans now more than ever. As this issue becomes more and more serious, we will inevitably see the damaging effects that packaging materials have on marine life, and even our own lives. Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done to address this issue both inside and outside of the home. Creating petitions or recycling incentives within one’s community will help address the issue on a larger scale, while making in home changes such as purchasing reusable grocery bags will lessen the personal impact one has on this colossal issue.

Essay by: Anya Greany
Northern Arizona University

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