“We made plastic. We depend on it. Now we’re drowning in it” – National Geographic
On average, 12 million tons of plastic are discarded in the ocean every year. It is estimated that there are over 5.25 trillion plastic waste in our oceans, with 100 million marine animals dying every year from plastic waste alone. These shocking statistics clearly indicate that plastic pollution in oceans is taking an aggressive turn with every passing day – and may wreak havoc on the entire planet in the coming days if not controlled today.
Plastic Pollution – A Global Disaster for Our Oceans and Marine Life
As explained in National Geographic, “Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them.”
The “miracle material” was invented to make our lives possible. However, over 40% of plastic is used only once and then disposed…resulting into landfills and choking the waterways. Plastic takes up to 1,000 years to decompose, releasing toxic chemicals that pose a serious threat to the mankind, flora and fauna.
Plastic waste in the environment arise in the form of microplastics, measuring between 5 micrometres and 5 millimetres. It is difficult to filter these fine particles efficiently and as a result, end up in the oceans. This plastic waste is then consumed by most kinds of marine animals, thus entering our food chain.
The effects of plastic pollution in oceans are nerve-wrecking. 100,000 marine animals die every year as a result of getting entangled in plastic. On the other hand, plastic waste of all sizes continues to clog the stomachs and choke aquatic creatures. Today, the scenario has so worsened that plastic is at every level of the marine food chain and even end up on our plates.
If plastic pollution continues to grow at this pace, then environmentalists predict that by 2050, plastic waste will outweigh all fishes in our oceans.
Ways to Control Plastic Pollution in Oceans
Awareness for plastic pollution is growing, with the government taking stringent actions to control the volume of plastic waste in oceans. For instance, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has put restrictions on daily-use products like toiletries and cosmetics that contain small particles and microbeads, and are not water-soluble or biodegradable. There is a ban on solid plastic particles and plastic microbeads with diameter 5mm or less, and that are water-insoluble.
There is a prohibition on use of carry bags that are made of recycled or virgin plastic less than 50 microns in thickness. Additionally, there is a complete ban on manufacturing plastic sachets used to store, pack and sell tobacco products. Manufacturing and use of plastic carry bags less than 50-micron thickness have been prohibited in 46 cities, 118 towns and 20 state capitals situated along the Ganga.
In addition to the government, individuals and organisations also have the responsibility towards preventing plastic pollution in oceans and landfills too. Discussed here are 5 ways to control plastic waste in oceans:
1. Say NO to Plastic
Wherever possible, avoid using plastic in any form. Plastic packaging, plastic bags, straws, lids, takeaway containers, etc. should be avoided. When you go out for shopping or dining out, carry your own reusable bags, utensils, water bottles or coffee mugs to avoid using plastic. Some retailers also provide discounts for this. Do not buy produces wrapped in plastic when you visit the local supermarket. Either carry your own bags or use paper bags.
2. Minimise Single-Use Plastics
Single-use plastics comprise of around 40% of total plastic waste today. As an initiative to reduce plastic pollution in oceans, India has committed to ban single-use plastics completely by 2022. There is prohibition in single-use plastic products in all major PSUs and central & state government offices.
Even you can contribute towards reducing plastic footprint by being more knowledgeable and aware. Prevent buying single-use disposables like plastic takeaway containers, water bottles, coffee cups, etc. Rather think from the “reusable” perspective. Use glass cups or reusable water bottles instead of plastic disposables. In restaurants and bars, use a glass and bring your own drinking straw, cutlery, etc. to minimise use plastic disposables.
3. Recycle Plastic Correctly
Recycling is an integral aspect of controlling plastic pollution and conserving our natural resources. It is important that you know what should and should not go into the recycling bin. Whenever you use a plastic product, check the recycling symbols it comes with (if any). Most beverage and liquid bottles are regarded number 1 for recycling. Heavy-duty plastic containers like that of laundry detergents, milk or juice are also recyclable in most areas.
What’s important is that you recycle plastic properly and do not just dispose it anywhere. Discard plastic only in the right waste bin which is marked for plastic.
4. Restrict Use of Microbeads
Microbeads are tiny plastic particles that are added to personal care and beauty products and serve as an exfoliating agent in face scrubs, toothpaste and soaps. These micro plastic particles easily go unfiltered through sewage treatment plants and end up eventually in the ocean. These microbeads are potentially harmful for marine life and therefore, many countries have implemented stringent policies to restrict manufacturing of microbeads and reduce plastic pollution in oceans.
However, the scope of restriction is limited. Therefore, you should avoid using products with microbeads to reduce your plastic footprint.
5. Avoid Synthetic Clothing or Use a Washing Machine Filter
Do you know that over 1/3rd of all plastic pollution in oceans come from laundry? When you wash synthetic clothing, it releases tiny plastic fibres that can result into plastic waste in the oceans. To prevent this, you can avoid synthetic clothing or use a filter in the washing machine that ensures less plastic fibre is released in the environment.
Plastic pollution has emerged as an insurmountable global tragedy today and the efforts to curb the same might seem far-fetched. However, there is a lot we human beings can do to prevent plastic pollution in oceans, help our planet and make the world a better place to live in.