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Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

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Plastic is a product that the average person uses in their everyday lives. It is used for various things due to how cheap and durable it is. According to plasticoceans.org, a website devoted to informing the public about plastic pollution, around fifty percent of plastic is used only once and then thrown away. In many cases, recycling happens but, in reality, some people just litter their recyclable plastic. Littering is a reckless and horrible action that some people do. In the US, this action is primarily done in roadways. Depending on where people live, there are legal consequences for littering. People may potentially pay a fine ranging from $20 up to $30,000, may end up serving time in jail, or may do community service. Even with consequences, some people are careless because they do not realize the impact that littering has. If each person in the US population littered one piece of plastic in one day that would mean that there would be 325.7 million pieces of plastic that will most likely end up in the ocean. We do not need to imagine this because we are living in this nightmare of plastic pollution. No matter where anyone litters, all the litter will end up in the ocean, and it will affect marine life and human health. Although plastic is a product that is efficient for the use of many goods, it has a detrimental effect on both the ocean’s ecosystem and human health, as well as future outlooks.

When describing ocean pollution, it can generally be labeled under two categories: chemicals and trash. Chemicals are generally considered a compound or substance that has been changed and or created by people. This means that chemicals that are created by marine life naturally are not considered pollution while the foreign materials (toxic metals, oil, and chemicals that are resistant to normal environmental degradation) that humans create do not coexist with the animals and microbes in the oceans naturally. The other type of ocean pollution, trash, is any material that is disposed of at beaches, waterways that lead to the ocean, or just in the ocean itself. Like chemicals, only materials that are made by humans can be considered ocean pollution. For example, dead ocean plants, shells, dead animals, or other natural materials are not considered pollution while things like plastics, paper, metal, and other man-made materials that are found on beaches or the ocean are considered ocean pollution. Making up about 60%-80% of all marine debris, plastic can easily be considered the biggest and most problematic marine debris due to the sheer volume that is littered and the time it takes to naturally decompose. And according to Ocean Health Index, “with estimates of 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean each year, the plastic menace is only growing larger as time goes on”. In recent times, the production of these ocean pollutants has skyrocketed as the need for these materials increase. However, these pollutants have begun to harm marine life. Plastics have killed fish, birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles along with playing a part in destroying habitats and affecting how animals act. This type of damage has the potential to cause the extinction of many animals as there are tons of endangered species due to pollution. These dangers have already possibly started reaching the human race because when sea animals ingest these toxic materials, there is a chance that they can be hunted and fished for consumption, and by proxy, these materials will be consumed by people.

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It is common knowledge that the presence of plastics in our oceans is detrimental to marine life. An article by the Pew Charitable Trusts states that “According to the United Nations, at least 800 species worldwide are affected by marine debris, and as much as 80 percent of that litter is plastic,” (Plastic Pollution). And the problem is only getting worse. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization known for its protection of endangered species, “at current rates plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050,” (Ocean Plastics). With so much plastic in our oceans, they often come into contact with and present a significant threat to our marine life populations. The two main ways that plastics harm marine life is through entanglement and ingestion. As stated in an article by Smithsonian Ocean, “over 200 marine species have been reported to be impacted by entanglement,” (Jambeck) some of which include whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, seabirds, and sea turtles. Hundreds of thousands of marine mammals and sea turtles die to plastic entanglement every year, with the most common perpetrators being lost fishing gear, plastic bags, and any type of rope or line (Noaa). Entangled animals may drown, starve or be more at risk of being hit by water vessels due to being restricted and often suffer from physical trauma and infections. The National Marine Fishery Service states that “entanglement is considered a primary cause of human-caused mortality in many whale species,” (Noaa).

Another problem with plastic waste is that it often ends up in the digestive tract of marine animals, which often causes piercing and blockage in the digestive tracts of affected animals. Plastic waste ingestion can also lead to a false feeling of fullness in the affected animals, causing them to not eat, which affects nutritional intake. Consumed plastic can also leach harmful chemicals into the bodies of marine life, which may lead to hormone imbalance (Jambeck). Plastic has been found in approximately 700 species of animals, including but not limited to whales, fish, sea turtles, crustaceans, birds, shellfish, and seals (Jambeck). The Center for Biological Diversity states that “fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year,” and estimates that “60 percent of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic, with that number predicted to increase to 99 percent by 2050,” (Ocean Plastics). All of this has lead to a large detrimental effect on the ocean’s ecosystems. Shockingly, many marine animals higher up on the food chain end up getting plastic waste in their systems indirectly from the consumption of other animals. And believe it or not, these problems also affect human health too.

The problem of increasing plastic waste in our oceans is a global one and we are not exempt from its effects. According to an article by The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, microplastics found in marine life can, “enter the food chain, ushering toxins into the fatty tissues of fish and other animals, which may subsequently be consumed by people,” (Popularity) which could have a detrimental effect on us as well. In consuming marine life that has ingested plastic waste, we are essentially consuming contaminated seafood. Some of the toxic chemicals found in plastics include lead, cadmium, mercury, diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), health-bisphenol-A (BPA), and phthalates, which can lead to several health problems including cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, hormone problems, and childhood developmental issues (Plastics In The Ocean).

According to the World Bank “the planet’s municipal solid waste” will double in the next 15 years. Most of the waste is a result of “single-use plastic items” (Plastic Oceans). These items can include bottles, bags, straws, and various types of food packaging. As a result of the doubling of plastic waste, there will likely be more plastic in the ocean than there is fish. Many people do not recycle their plastic and it ends up in the ocean due to poor management. Without intervention, many species of fish and sea creatures may become endangered and perhaps extinct. It is also possible that high amounts of plastic will impact humans. Fish will receive toxins from the plastic over time and it will be absorbed. When humans consume these fish they will be consuming the toxins. Plastic may kill off many oxygen-producing ocean species and result in a decrease in oxygen. This would harm human beings and land organisms but also the atmosphere due to greenhouse gas issues. The plastic may intrude on beaches and docks and could block the paths of ships. This would be a massive problem for shipping and markets. Shipments would take even longer due to the trouble of finding a clear path to take. The ocean may eventually become uninhabitable in some areas due to high levels of pollution.

To lower plastic debris in our ecosystems, there must be regulations to help prevent any more harm. Although a vast amount of debris in the ocean may be intimidating to clean, there are always solutions to condense it. The government has a huge impact on pollution. If the government had strict regulations on how to use plastic, and what to do with it when it is not useful anymore, then the environment would be cleaner. There are not enough websites or awareness that the government does to inform the population about ocean pollution. Each country has different regulations and bans, that their government makes, to help their country thrive. Similar to the Paris Agreement, where various countries come together to battle the immense issue of climate change, there should be some sort of international effort that focused on plastic pollution.

As of right now, the US is trying to solve plastic pollution by recycling, yet it is extremely hard due to president Trump’s ideologies and China’s ban on imports of plastic. Although, “the United States ranks 20th on the list of countries contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean with an estimated 88 to 242 million pounds/year of plastic marine debris,” (Dell, 2018), Trump is blaming plastic waste pollution in Asia and is not doing much to solve the problem. China was the US’ number one buyer of our plastic, but the ban causes the US to start sending plastic to landfills, which created to “have downsides, such as producing toxic air pollution that can lead to a host of health issues from itchy eyes to breathing problems.” (Woodinsky, 2018). Although there may be some countries like the US that are still trying to figure out their solutions with plastic, other countries such as the UK have started attacking the problem.

Not all countries are the same. The UK has started to battle the problem of plastic pollution. They have announced that their 25-year plan consists of, “set the global gold standard on eliminating plastic, according to environment minister Michael Gove” (Calderwood, 2018). The UK has started to ban microbeads, have plastic-free aisles in supermarkets, ban cotton swabs, cut down on plastic bottles, and much more. If all the governments enforced regulations like these, our environment would be cleaner.

Not only is this a great way to solve a grave environmental problem, but the public must be educated. For the problem of plastic pollution to be heard, and be taken into action there should be presentations and classes that should be included in school curriculums. An example of this is, “All the Way to the Ocean” is a book where two friends, Isaac and James, learn about the importance of keeping the earth clean will be effective in the future. As James throws a candy wrapper down the drain he learns about the impactful dangers that pollution has on the environment. In the end, the two boys and the rest of their school, help and clean their campus and neighborhood, to make a wonderful impact. In schools, students should be taught that littering is detrimental, and recycling is an effective option to help save the earth. Littering is a behavioral issue, that should not be tolerated.

Society tends to neglect our responsibility and how everyone simply needs to accept our role as individuals to help. We can either contribute to the problem or help fix it. Lastly, if anyone cannot for any reason be able to recycle, a great alternative of instead using plastic is using glass or anything easy and compostable.

Within the last 100 years of using plastic, it has become one of the top dangers to the Earth’s ecosystem and will continue to damage the ecosystem at a growing rate. It has become normal for people to see trash on the beach or to imagine a sea of trash. The amount of waste that is produced by our consumption is crazy high. We live in a world where within 100 years of something being used it has engulfed the planet. While some people pay the financial consequences of littering, the world has to pay the physical consequences. Beautiful environments are being consumed by plastic. It kills off animals of all kinds. It destroys the beautiful views that the future will no longer be able to experience. If everyone can reduce the amount of plastic that is used by at least one of what they would normally use then it can save money and the environment. We, as humans, are on the right track to making the oceans a cleaner place. Countries are taking regulations into their own hands and banning all sorts of items that are littered. The public is becoming more aware of the problem at hand and realizing that we are in danger of consuming plastics. In the end, the only thing we can do is to reduce the amount of plastic being used and recycle. 

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