Plastic makes up around 80 percent of all marine debris. I do not know about you but that is insane. What is even more insane is that about half of that is made up of single-use plastics like packaging, cups, straws, and other items that we use every day. This occurs because of the three hundred million tons of plastic we produce annually.
Out of the three hundred million tons of plastic produced about 14 million of that ends up in our oceans through a variety of means. A lot of it comes from land sources like beaches and densely populated areas being exacerbated by tourism and the lack of proper waste disposal methods. Some of this plastic debris comes from locations around the ocean from abandoned or discarded fishing gear, also known as ghost gear. But one of the biggest polluters are small urban rivers, especially in areas where proper waste disposal is limited or non-existent.
Why is this Even Important?
Plastic does not decompose. Unlike some products like paper, wood, or glass, plastic does not break down over time. Plastic pretty much has the ability to stay around in our oceans forever and because of this it just breaks up into smaller pieces called microplastics. Having these plastics in our oceans is causing major damage to not only the ocean and its marine life biodiversity but to people as well.
One of the largest impacts of plastic in our oceans is on marine life and its biodiversity. Large pieces of plastic debris have caused the death of many marine animals through entanglement and suffocation. Plastics are also commonly mistaken for prey for many marine creatures and birds resulting in them ingesting this plastic. Ingesting plastic causes immense harm to these animals. They can suffer physical harm like cuts and infections, but this plastic can also cause developmental and reproductive issues. All of this causing harm to the biodiversity and sustainability of our oceans.
The negative impacts of plastic in our oceans does not stop at marine life but has been shown, especially in recent years, to have a major impact on humans too. Microplastics have been increasingly found in our food and water supplies resulting in people unknowingly ingesting microplastics. The ingestion of microplastics can interfere with our body’s endocrine system. This can result in immune, reproductive, developmental, and neurological disorders. And now we have found microplastics not only in human placentas but also people’s blood.
It feels like it is now or never to tackle the issue of plastic in our oceans. Although there has always been a push to keep our oceans clean as of recently there has been a major push from a new group of people. I am talking about the #TeamSeas movement. #TeamSeas is a global campaign to raise 30 million dollars to remove 30 million pounds of plastic and trash from our oceans. This campaign is being led by Mark Rober and Mr. Beast in partnership with The Ocean Cleanup and the Ocean Conservancy.
#TeamSeas is tackling this ocean clean up via local-organized cleanups of beaches, removing plastics from rivers before they reach the ocean, and removing lost and abandoned ghost-gear. Through their partnership with the Ocean Conservancy #TeamSeas is partnering with local volunteers to remove plastic and trash from beaches all over the world. To impact the pollution from rivers they have partnered with The Ocean Cleanup and their amazing Interceptors that have already removed upwards of 2 million pounds of plastic and garbage from rivers before it got a chance to make it to the ocean. As of writing this #TeamSeas has beaten their set goal and has removed 32,485,993 pounds of plastic and trash from our oceans.
But we should not and cannot stop there. Although this has already made a major impact there is still work to be done. We need to continue to push for change at all levels. We need change at the societal level. We need to increase our shift from single use plastics to more sustainable options. We need to increase access to proper disposal methods and sites. And more than anything else we need legislation changes and accountability from those doing the most damage.
Essay by: Madison Mackenzie Riley
Western Washington University