Of all the things that negatively affect our environment, plastic seems to have the biggest target on its back. And with good reason – plastic, especially single-use plastic, is one of the largest contributors to pollution in our oceans. 80% of litter in our marine habitats is from plastic, because every year, 8 million tons of it finds its way into the ocean.1
Plastic became so popular because it is cheap, durable, and has a variety of uses.2 And would you believe it if we told you that plastics have a few upsides too? They are sterile and help us keep our food fresh, so we don’t waste as much, and it can be recycled.3
So what’s the problem?
The main problem is that we’ve become overly dependent on plastic. We’re making way too much of it, and a lot of it is only used once before it’s thrown away.3 The other problem is that we don’t have the solutions in place to handle all of the plastic. Without recycling facilities to recycle these materials, guess where the plastic ends up? Yep, in a landfill or in the ocean. Only about 30% of plastic actually does get recycled.3
Plastic that ends up in our oceans breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until they’re either microplastics or nanoplastics. Many marine animals end up eating the plastic, either by mistaking it for prey or eating prey that’s already consumed plastic. They can also get caught up in the debris. This causes them to suffocate to death, starve to death, or sustain internal or external injuries that impede their ability to swim, hunt, and survive.1
As the plastic travels through the food web, some of it ends up on our plates or in our water. This poses a risk to our health as well.1
So what can we do about it?
On a consumer level, we can reduce the amount of plastic we use. We can bring our own grocery bags to the store and refill our own water bottles or coffee cups instead of using single-use plastic ones.
On a federal level, new policies that standardize the process of handling and recycling plastic could help make sure everyone is on the same page.3 Funding research to study more on how plastics affect us and our environment, as well as how we can reuse and recycle better is going to be really important so governments have the science ready to inform their policies.1
Enforcing rules is also a big one. Legal efforts have been made to ensure people comply, but lack of funds has interrupted the process of making sure someone is there to enforce the laws that are passed.1
Has your relationship with plastic changed? Let us know how! Connect with us on Instagram, @passport2wildlife.