The Plastics Pollution Problem – How You Can Help
It’s tough to say exactly how much plastic is in the ocean, but scientists believe at least 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year. That’s the weight of nearly 90 aircraft carriers annually, and the problem continues to grow. The amount of plastic trash that flows into the oceans every year is expected to nearly triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tons
Plastics produce 3.8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, roughly double that of all the airplanes on earth! According to a new analysis from Bennington College’s Beyond Plastics think tank, the plastics industry in the United States alone is on pace to eclipse the carbon footprint of the country’s remaining coal-fired power plants by the end of this decade.
Every step from production to disposal of plastics releases greenhouse gasses. Extraction and transportation of the fossil fuels used to make plastics is a carbon-intensive activity, emitting millions of tons of carbon dioxide. Refining and manufacturing of the plastics themselves is also a greenhouse gas intensive process.
Plastics disposal is usually processed in three different ways: landfill, incineration, or recycling. Landfill and incineration of plastics both have climate impact and greenhouse gas emissions. At present just 9% of all plastic is recycled worldwide!
Unfortunately, much of the remaining plastics end up in our oceans and waterways. And unlike some other kinds of waste, plastics don’t decompose, which means plastics can stick around indefinitely, disrupting marine ecosystems and creating havoc for marine life.
Some plastics float once they enter the ocean, though not all do. As the plastic is tossed around, much of it breaks into tiny pieces, called microplastics. These tiny pieces eventually break down to even smaller bits called microbeads, or microfibers which are shed from synthetic clothing or fishing nets. These fibers, beads, and microplastic fragments can all contain harmful pollutants like pesticides, dyes, and flame retardants, which can then be released into the ocean.
There are many ways to keep plastic out of the ocean! Here are some simple strategies to reduce:
- Reduce plastic use. Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way to help is to reduce your use of single-use plastics. Refuse any plastic items that you use once and throw out (like plastic bags, straws, cups, plates, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, etc.) and replace them with a reusable version of that product.
According to Earthday.org, Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year, averaging about 13 bottles per month for every person in the U.S.! That means that by switching to a reusable water bottle you can save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually.
2. Avoid products containing microbeads. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems and affect hundreds of marine species.
Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for “polyethylene” and “polypropylene” on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products (find a list of products containing microbeads here).
3. Recycle Properly. Be sure to recycle the plastic you use. Recycling helps keep plastics out of the ocean and reduces the amount of plastic in circulation.
If you need help finding a place to recycle plastic waste near you, check Earth911’s recycling directory. It’s also important to check with your local recycling center about the types of plastic they accept, and how to prepare it properly for recycling.
4. Spread the Word. Stay informed on issues related to plastic pollution and help make others aware of the problem. Talk about the issue with your friends and family and explain about how they can be part of the solution!
Host a viewing party for one of the many plastic pollution focused documentaries, like A Plastic Ocean, Garbage Island: An Ocean Full of Plastic, or Garbage Island. Or host an outing with friends to an exhibit about plastics and the ocean, like the Free Our Seas exhibit of sculptures made from ocean debris to be held at Flamingo Gardens this summer.
5. Participate in a beach cleanup. Volunteer to pick up marine litter in your local community, at the beach, or along a river, canal, or other waterway. Find a cleanup near you!
You can join Flamingo Gardens’ new Eco-teers volunteer group and take part in monthly projects such as waterway cleanups, tree plantings and coastal restoration projects across Broward County. Join like-minded environmental stewards and help us help the environment. Contact our Volunteer Department at [email protected]
with the subject line “Eco-teers”.