Out of Sight, Out of Mind
By Sophia Larson
It is no secret that plastic is not easily biodegraded, as the average lifespan for plastic is about 1000 years. While there are many hard reusable plastics used on Earth currently, much of the plastic is single use - plastics that are used all around the world for merely minutes without even a second thought and then thrown away.
While greenhouse gases are the leading cause of global warming, another determining factor is plastic pollution. According to an article by Thrive Global, approximately 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced since the genesis of plastic. Out of this number, 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic refuse (non-biodegradable plastic) has been produced. This is an alarming number, as it is all sitting on Earth creating more toxic pollution. Of these statistics, 9% of plastic was recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% was placed in a big pollution-filled pile of waste.
Marine pollution is a very ominous threat. Plastic and other wastes washes into the oceans from the land, polluting the biggest part of earth. Millions and millions of metric tons of plastic have found its way into the ocean. Much of the plastic litter in the ocean is microplastic, which is smaller and not immediately visible. Microplastic is very dangerous as animals are more likely to eat it and it is much more difficult to fully remove from oceans. Chunks of plastic garbage, other wastes, and microplastic can form into garbage patches in the ocean, due to rotating ocean currents called gyres. The most well known garbage patch is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” located in between Hawaii and California. This garbage patch is massive - it is twice the size of Texas, and according to The Ocean Cleanup, there are approximately 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the pacific garbage patch. This is not just floating on the surface of the water, as microplastics float down near the bottom of the ocean, while buoyant plastic floats near the top.
100 million animals have already died due to plastic waste. Although the majority of sea creatures consume this waste, many animals get tangled in the waste and choke to death. For the animals who consume the plastic, most of which are marine animals, the plastic gets stuck in their stomach and are not able to eat food, which in turn causes them to die. Along with plastic, lost fishing nets are also very dangerous, as they can trap animals and kill them, according to the NOAA Marine Debris Program. Moreover, floating plastics can transport animals, such as algae and barnacles, and be an invasive species in a new niche, potentially disrupting the ecosystem.
According to Greenpeace, greenhouse gases and plastic pollution in the ocean are having a disastrous impact on climate change. The Earth’s oceans are rapidly absorbing carbon dioxide, rising acidity levels, and threatening vital species of the marine food chain such as coral and plankton. As plastics break down into microplastics, they emit greenhouse gases, leading to further harm towards the environment. Plastics in the ocean also accumulate pollutants and transport them through ocean currents, spreading marine pollution throughout the earth.
We are destroying our planet and plastic is a leading culprit. To stop this, we, as a human race, need to halt our plastic manufacturing and usage, and begin to look for safer alternatives.