Plastic has been affecting the earth and ocean for years now. The time has finally come where a major change needs to occur because human actions are catching up to them. So many new discoveries have been found about plastic and the obstacles have doubled. Millions of animals have and will die, the ocean is getting polluted to almost be at the point of no return, if no one steps in and actually makes an action, we will have destroyed our planet and have nowhere else to go.

The original meaning of the word plastic meant a material that was both “pliable and easily shaped.” Plastics recently became a subset of the category polymers as plastics got reinvented and were constructed using a chain of molecules. There are two different types of polymers , synthetic and natural polymers. Natural polymers are good for the environment, they break down easily and are made naturally. Synthetic polymers are man-made, they do not break down naturally, and are made of chemicals. Plastics are a type of synthetic polymer. The process to make plastic is similar to cellulose a natural polymer that makes the cell walls of plants. The only difference is that cellulose is a natural polymer and plastic is synthetic. (1 “History and Future of Plastics.”) The fact that plastics are not biodegradable makes plastic accumulate either on land or in the ocean. (3 Ming).

Plastic was first invented in 1907 but did not become a relevant material to society until World War II (1935). They used plastic for a ton of things during war “ for parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and more” (2 “The History of Plastics”.) Plexiglass also used plastic and would be installed into aircraft as an alternative to glass. With so many different uses for plastic, the United States ended up producing 300 % more plastic than previous years, purely because of WWII. This began the obsession with plastic, that humans still have today.

With plastic just reaching its peak production at these early years, 1960 was also the first year plastic pollution was beginning to be seen. Plastic began to get washed up onto shores and an author by the name of Rachel Carson wrote a book explaining all the dangerous chemicals that were being out into plastics. Plastic also received a bad identity by a movie called “The Graduate” a very popular movie at the time, that showed plastic as a cheap and flimsy material. (Oberbekkmann, “History and Future of Plastics”) This is the first moment people realized that plastic may not be the best idea to mass produce. However, instead of listening to their gut, they listened to money and plastic production increased exponentially.

Today, plastic waste is a major concern around the world.”The oceans alone receive an estimated 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste yearly” (3 Reu). Not only have plastics became much more durable than they were 50 years ago, plastic production has increased exponentially. Plastics affect both the marine life and the soil ecosystem by releasing toxic substances into soil as plastic attempts to break down. One small piece of plastic can take up to 10 years to fully break down and even after that occurs, it becomes a microplastic, and will continue to be on this planet for years and years, (Esan).

Businesses, society, and manufacturers, make and use thousands of tons of plastic every year because of how cheap and easily disposable it is. (Esan) One will find plastic in grocery stores, fast food, school supplies, and/or in households. You will find plastic in almost any and every public place whether it be a commercial or a domestic setting. (Brunner). Plastic was never a huge problem until it caught up with us within the last 30 years . Plastic now is one of the biggest pollution problems. Plastic is not only found in commercial or domestic settings it is also found in the oceans affecting all of our wildlife. Many are just starting to vocalize their concern for the earth, “…we’ve taken the stability of our own planet entirely for granted. That stability has let us largely ignore the physical world…” (13 Anderson). In order to halt the destruction of plastic, humans need to come up with new methods to avoid plastic.

Currently a large mass of plastic the size of Texas, called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, often called, “The Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch” (NOAA 2013) floats in the North Pacific. What some people call an island of plastic, it actually turns out to be where the currents meet keeping millions of pieces of plastic in one place. The garbage patch goes over 100 feet down. Scientists and researchers have ended up finding a couple of these some even larger, and suspect that there are more gyres, they just have not been found yet. (Sigler).

Besides the crazy amount of plastic being collected and found in the ocean, it is not just the masses of water that are affected by plastic. Hundreds of marine animals are affected by plastic and are very likely to end up dying because of it. This effects the biodiversity in the ecosystems which can end up affecting the animals as much as climate change can and will. (Brown). Wildlife will often be injured due to “entanglement or ingestion of plastics found in the environment.” (7 Stigler). Animals will eat plastics because of a countless number of things. Animals may believe the plastic looks like their food, They may be confused and curious as to what it is, or they could end up accidentally getting caught in it.

A new app called Tik Tok recently went viral and has increased its popularity. Recently many users have began making fun of “VSCO girls” a term or new stereotype used to make fun of people who enjoy saving the turtles by reducing plastic waste. These girls will attempt to reduce plastic use by carrying around metal straws in order to avoid plastic straws. What started as a viral joke among young adults and teens, as it got popular, the more harm came to the environment. Many teens and young adults see it as “not cool” and fear getting made fun if they carry around metal straws in order to avoid plastic straws. Scientists prove “Numerous autopsies have shown that ingested plastic and tar are the primary culprits of stress and non-natural death for sea turtles.” (7 Stigler). Although the viral joke has brought awareness to the issue, it did not help make any improvements to the environment.

Birds get significantly harmed by plastic as they cannot tell the difference between plastic and brightly colored fish. The first time birds ingesting plastic was the 1960’s. Marine birds that dive for their food generally get affected by this more, most likely because they feed off zooplankton that are the same shape and size as a lot of different types of plastics that are found in the ocean. The process of dying birds generally does not end here. If birds have chicks plastic often ends up getting regurgitated to the baby chicks, also killing the babies. “Birds think that plastic is brightly colored fitch and end up eating the plastic which could hurt or kill them.” (Gerhardt). Plastic damages the birds digestive tracts and can lead to death or severe suffering.

If birds can get affected and they are outside of the water, imagine the fish who live in the water. Many fish, similar to birds will also tend to believe that a piece of plastic is a particle of food. Researchers on this case collected a group of 1,375 fish and tested their stomach to see how much plastic, if any, each fish had eaten. 35% of the fish had plastic is their stomachs, with a total of about 2.5 pieces of plastic that each fish ate. Another study by Davinson and Asch collected 142 fish and came out with the results that on average each fish will consume about 12,000-24,000 pieces of plastic each year.

The above animals are not the only animals being harmed currently. There have been reports of cretaceans who live far away from the shoreline dying with plastic inside of their stomachs. In 2010, two sperm whales got washed up both in which had ingested plastic. One whale had nylon netting in its stomach. The second whale had plastic bags, nylon netting and fishing line all blocking the stomach from the intestines. There are so many other horror stories of animals getting killed because of human impact. There is no reason why humans shouldn’t be able to find a way to reduce plastic production in order to decrease the thousands of marine animals and ecosystems we continue to destroy daily.

Seafood has always been a very popular genre food since at least the 1900’s. So exactly how much plastic is one person eating in their lifetime. Humans tend to eat plenty of microplastics as they enjoy seafood. (Seltenrich) Eating plastic can lead to potential health effects, although research still need to guarantee any results or possible effects. Although plastics contain a wide range of chemicals that are used to enhance it, during the manufacturing process. Additives can be things such as flame retardants, antioxidants, and many other chemicals considered unhealthy for any living thing. These chemicals could potentially leached into the human body through consumption. (Thompson).

Many people believe recycling is one of the best things they can do for the environment. Although the process of recycling is not the best situation to put earth under, In order to recycle many plastics, humans will melt the plastic down in order to create new plastic. (Rochman) As you melt plastic is releases all its chemicals into the air adding to greenhouse gases, a term for the excess amount of gases in earth’s air. These gases increase global warming, another big problem happening with earth at the moment. (Rynarzewska)

Microplastics are plastics that have either been larger pieces of plastic that have naturally broken down into pieces smaller than 5mm or pieces of plastic that humans have crushed to 5mm. (Plummer) Microplastics are found everywhere, including the Mariana Trench , the deepest spot of the ocean in the world. They have also found plastic from another sample of deep-sea water near Greenland with 3,400 pieces of plastic in one liter. (Tibbets) A big problem with microplastics in the ocean is it is a continuous cycle where the plastic has no escape, or no way to not get eaten again. When a fish has consumed a piece of plastic and gets eaten by a bigger fish, the plastic with end up in the bigger fish. When the bigger fish eventually dies, the plastic will not just disappear, it sinks to the sea floor until the next animal eats it. (Blackwell)

Microplastics are not only found in the ocean they are also found on land. In fact a study done on people proved that many people consume microplastics without even knowing it as, plastics have been found in human feces. Humans can consume plastic countless ways just like the many other species that also consumer plastic. One could consume plastic by drinking water, eating seafood, even breathing highly polluted air could result in one getting microplastics in their body. (Blackwell)

Many businesses have began to announce they are reducing their plastic in stores. Most of the stores promise to have reduced their plastic use by 2030. Walmart is one of the stores that promised, they are also attempting to get their suppliers to help with the problem. A lot of people are also ranting to stores that use too much plastic to reduce their plastic in stores. Trader Joe’s is one of the stores that got called out for using too much plastic. In all honesty, although they did make an announcement saying they are reducing plastic, they did not make that big of a difference which was very disappointing to many people. In order to make a major impact businesses need to significantly cut down on plastic use. California is one of the only state that has actual plastic laws in place. Grocery stores now charge for paper bags and do not carry plastic bags. Although the cost is low (about 25 cents), this little action encourages people to bring their own bags to carry their things. Indonesia also pledged July 2017 that they were going to “reduce solid waste by 30 percent through reduce, reuse, recycle , and reduce plastic waste in the ocean by 70% by 2025.” (7 Grace.). These are only a few communities that have come together to help reduce plastic use. (Nyman).

There are many things one could do in order to help the environment. The first and most foremost thing is to use the least amount of plastic possible. Many people recently have gone “plastic-free” meaning they use absolutely no plastic unless it is an absolute must. The less a society demands plastic the more alternatives will be given. The effects of plastics have been talked about for years, most people are aware its a problem, humans need to stop talking about action and just act. (Solutions).

Another way one can help is to volunteer time to help pickup trash and litter around your area, the more a society throws away trash, the more control the community has on where it goes. Invest money in reusable items. Instead of going to the grocery store and getting plastic bags or even paper bags bring you own bags to carry your groceries. More reusable item ideas are, reusable water bottles, straws, cutlery such as forks or knives for when one goes out to eat. If everyone went out of their way a little bit the earth would be able to recover that little much. After all, this is the only planet one can survive, humans need to keep it as clean as possible. (Solutions). In order to fix the damage humans have done to the earth, everyone needs to unite together and take action instead of just talking about it. Too much plastic is being produced, getting into oceans, and seeping toxins into the soil. In order to help reduce plastic pollution humans need to produce less, recycle more, pick up more trash, litter less. Plastic is destroying the only planet living things can survive on and it all their own fault. Come together, fix the mess that plastic became. As people are using plastic, remember the impact of of the one plastic bag killing the poor sea turtle, or that straw a penguin choked on and died. Globally, researchers have estimated that over 100 million marine animals have died from the plastic waste issue. Strategies such as cutting plastic before throwing it away could prevent further extinction.

Works Cited
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Essay by: Breanna Fritzsching
Boulder Creek High School

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