The role plastic products play in the daily lives of people all over the world is interminable. We could throw statistics at you all day long, (e.g. upwards of 300 MILLION tons of plastic are produced each year) but the impact of our consumption borders on inconceivable.
For those living on the coast, a walk along the ocean can begin to shed some light into just how staggering our addiction to plastic has become as bottles, cans, bags, lids and straws are permanent fixtures on many beaches. In other areas our addiction is more poignant; remains of animal carcasses and the plastic debris they ingested or became entangled in still visible long after their death.
To make matters worse, an overwhelming amount of plastic pollution isn’t even visible to the human eye, occurring out at sea and on a microscopic level. The short-lived use of millions of tons of plastic is, quite simply, unsustainable and dangerous. We have only begun to see the far-reaching consequences of plastic pollution and how it impacts the environment.
According to a study from Plymouth University, plastic pollution impacts at least 700 marine species, while some estimates suggest that at least 100 million marine mammals are killed each year from plastic pollution.
These are some of those species:
1. Sea Turtles
Sea turtles often ingest plastic waste after mistaking it for a viable food source, resulting in severe blockages. Although a number of factors are responsible for the declining sea turtle populations worldwide, (most all of which involve human exploitation) plastic pollution plays a significant role.
Separate studies from 2013 suggest as many as 50 percent of sea turtles are ingesting plastic debris at an unprecedented rate, and dying because of it. Another study of the Loggerhead species found that 15 percent of young turtles had consumed such enormous quantities of plastic that their digestive tracts were completely obstructed.
2. Seals and Sea Lions
Marine life can become entangled in any number of ocean debris common in our oceans including: fishing nets (bottom trawls, gill nets), long lines, and lures. Additionally, thousands of animals, specifically seals and sea lions, become entwined in plastic bags and plastic packing bands every year, with many eventually succumbing to their injuries.
An eight-year study in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia documented at least 388 Stellar Sea Lions impacted by these single-use plastic products.
Plastic pollution results in the deaths of millions of marine birds every year. Arguably more so than other species, the Laysan albatross has been deeply impacted because of their unique feeding technique. When the albatross dives into the ocean to catch fish or squid, they use their beak to skim the surface, picking up plastic along the way.
Research suggests an estimated 98 percent of albatross have ingested some type of plastic debris.
Fish, along with pretty much any animal that brings in water through its gills, are increasingly at risk to microscopic plastic debris. A study performed at the University of Exeter UK suggested that these microplastics could take up to six times as long for the animal to rid themselves of, in comparison to ingesting the debris orally.
Unlike the other animals on this list, fish are the only species that are also frequently consumed by humans. A number of studies confirm that most fish have at one time or another ingested plastic microfibers, including brown trout, cisco, and perch.
5. Whales and Dolphins
Many cetaceans consume plastic as a result of their feeding habits. In some species, similar to the albatross, the mouth of the animal is so large it inadvertently ingests plastic debris (observed in baleen whales).
Research and mounting evidence continue to corroborate the notion that hundreds of species of cetaceans are impacted by our addiction to plastic.
According to Marine Pollution Bulletin, cetaceans are ingesting plastic at a rate as high as 31 percent, and in turn, 22 percent are at an increased risk of death.
What Can You Do?
It’s clear that plastic pollution impacts virtually every living organism inhabiting, or thriving off of, the oceans of our world. We must remain diligent in our work to minimize the amount of plastic we consume. Whether you’re just starting the journey to minimize your plastic consumption or not, there are a few key steps that never hurt to repeat.
Clean Up After Yourself
Sounds pretty self-explanatory, right?
If you’re on the beach or at the park, be mindful of a “leave with what you came with” policy. It also doesn’t hurt to pick up after your neighbors if you notice they may have left a few things behind. Beach cleanups are a great way to help the environment and meet like-minded individuals who want to reduce their plastic footprint.
It’s simple to apply this in your everyday life by recycling in your own home. Most public places now offer waste versus recycling options, too. If you happen to be out and you don’t see an area for recyclables, simply ask. Worst case scenario? You’re forced to take a plastic bottle or bag home with you and recycle it on your own.
When You Can: Just Say “No”
We understand that going completely plastic free is challenging for most families, but plastic consumption is not by any means necessary. Saying no to straws, buying in bulk, and bringing your own reusable bags grocery shopping are just a few of the many ways you can cut down on the amount of plastic you’re consuming.