Victims of the Plastic Plague
From the Earth to the oceans and life in between - none has remained unscathed by the spiralling peril of single-use plastics. The blatant callousness in the production and management of plastics left a blemish on Earth's environment that cannot be easily compensated for.
When chlorinated plastics end up on bare soil or in landfills, toxins are released that affect soil structure and poison the fauna. Recent studies even concluded that micro plastics stunt the growth of earthworms. This results in weakening soil structure, as earthworms ensure suitable aeration and nutrient content in soil through burrowing, breaking down organic matter and excreting. Furthermore, chemicals released from plastics may seep into groundwater, resulting in large scale groundwater contamination.
In the oceans, the impact of plastic pollution is far more dreadful. Roughly 80% of the Pacific Ocean is occupied by a layer of ‘plastic soup’. Some plastic products contain a toxic chemical known as Bisphenol A that affects the water quality. The debris also adversely impacts the fauna. Plastics form 80% of the marine debris that affects more than 800 species worldwide, according to a study by the United Nations. Marine animals are injured and killed through suffocation, ingestion and entanglement. When mistaken for food, the plastics pass down the food chain, affecting a vast portion of the entire ecosystem. Sea birds, turtles and fish die of starvation when their stomachs are loaded with plastics. Marine debris is linked to the death of an estimated hundreds of thousands of sea turtles every year.
At the end of the day, nature has its way of reciprocating the deeds of mankind with an equally matched spite. Eventually, plastics make their way into the human body through contaminated water sources and food that is ingested. Chemicals used in plastics are linked to adverse effects on hormone function, and even brain development of children.
Thankfully, mankind has woken up to the severity of their injustices. Individuals, organizations and governments of several countries are employing policies and projects in order to manage plastic pollution. Ocean Clean-up, a non-profit organisation, plans to clean up 90% of the existing oceanic plastic and designed the first scalable solution to retract plastic from rivers before they reach the ocean. As of 2019, a giant boom has begun capturing debris from the great Pacific garbage patch. Moreover, several countries including Canada, Australia, the UK, France and Kenya introduced a total ban on single use plastics. Australia was successful in the elimination of one third of the plastic waste that ended up in landfills prior to the ban. Washington, D.C. was one of the first to impose tax on single use plastic bags and experienced 85% reduction in plastic bag consumption.
While governments and organizations fulfil their duties, the average human being must cooperate in this campaign against plastic pollution. Small steps in lifestyle changes may be of great help. For example, rather than buying bottles water from street sides to beat the heat, why not carry reusable ceramic and metal bottles around? In grocery stores, refuse having those tomatoes packed in single use plastic bags and carry a personal bag instead. Moreover, straws and other plastic appliances that aren’t absolutely essential must be cut out from daily lives. And of course, it is imperative to support and volunteer in the actions of local leaders and organisations who advocate and work to combat plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution is a pressing global concern that threatens not only the environment, but every living organism. It’s time for mankind to step up and take back its home from the invasion of plastic waste. If not for the sake of being a responsible global citizen, at least do it for the baby turtles!