The Situation of Plastic Waste in our Oceans
Several individuals can confirm having utilized plastic at least once in their lives. Such a guess should, however, not come as a surprise seeing that plastic proved to be a very resourceful commodity since its invention. Nevertheless, over the recent years, environmentalists and other researchers have realized that the present global waste disposal mechanisms have done so little to manage resultant plastic waste. The innate nature of plastics combined with contemporary human behavior has made the commodity hugely affect human lives especially through plastic waste that finds its way into oceans.
Nature of Plastic
Plastic was invented in the early ‘90s but its commercial production did not begin until around 1950 (Parker). Plastic gained its popularity due to its durability with very many products from common household items to industrial products being from the product. There are different types of plastic that have been invented and produced in mass quantities with the most common being composed of polyethylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, and Styrofoam (Azzarello and Van Vleet 295). As production of plastic continued to heighten, the pollution effects especially in large water bodies were not noticed until in the 1970s. Come 2017 and the amount of plastic waste have multiplied hugely to roughly 6.9 billion tons of plastic waste. Human beings attempt at saving the situation seem to be failing with scientists reporting that of all that waste only 0.3 billion (Parker). It is only possible to work with estimates on how much of the remaining plastic waste reaches oceans. The problem of plastic waste is, to this extent, complicated by its durable nature. That is, plastic is a non-biodegradable item that can roughly take over 450 years to fully decompose with certain plastic types never breaking down fully at all (Parker). As a result, the pile of plastic waste in water bodies constantly increase with estimates positing that the mass of plastic waste in oceans by the year 2050 will march the total mass of fish found in the oceans (Hanson). Such statistics indicate how plastic waste pollution is on the constant rise with immediate reforms needed.
Furthermore, most of the plastic products are light and can be carried away by both wind currents and water currents (Parker). This nature of plastic makes the resultant pollution caused in oceans even greater. Whenever the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans is mentioned many individuals tend to think of the direct waste that may be dumped in the ocean from vessels such as ships and boats. However, much of the plastic waste that makes it into oceans is transported from lands adjacent to such oceans and even through rivers travelling from far within the land into oceans (Parker). Plastic items that are not properly disposed on land especially in coastal regions can easily be blown by winds into oceans or carried by flood water and rivers entering the ocean. It becomes even harder to access plastic waste that has entered oceans due to this nature of plastics. The waste gets carried by ocean currents and drifts to different areas (Parker). Being that oceans are interlinked with no physical boundaries, plastic waste from the beaches of Miami in the United States, for instance, can easily be carried to the British Isles in Europe. Hence, the issue of plastic waste pollution should never be handled as a local matter since it affects every region in the world. As such, it becomes necessary to understand that the issue of plastic pollution in oceans will only be managed if measures are geared towards handling the overall plastic waste pollution situation.
Even in the event that plastic is made out of slightly degradable material the effects of their resultant pollution of oceans will not be less critical. Such semi-degradable plastic often breaks down as a result of being tossed around and bumped into other items by ocean currents and tides and also a result of solar corrosion (Hanson). With time these plastic waste constantly reduce in size but their presence in the ocean is still felt. The reduction in size is also as a result of ingestion by fish and other ocean organisms. Moreover, when these plastic wastes become reduced to such sizes they become easily consumed by ocean organisms (Hanson). However, such plastic waste materials are not naturally occurring and they do not form part of the healthy diet of the animals. Whenever these plastics are broken down into finer particles they mix with ocean water and the resultant chemical reactions change the ocean water making it toxic for the organisms that thrive in oceans (Hanson). To that end, plastics have proven to be a big problem as far as ocean pollution is concerned. Yet, these plastic wastes are a result of human production and improper handling.
Contemporary Human Behavior
Human beings have shown an incredible attraction towards plastics and plastic products (Guern). This attraction has been greatly influenced by different aspects of plastics as a commodity. Plastic items are lightweight hence they require little energy to move from one place to another. Still, plastic is a relatively inexpensive item meaning that one does not spend a lot in purchasing them. Such cheap prices lead many people to prefer plastic alternatives to their wooden and metallic counterparts. Furthermore, plastics are versatile and can be used in multiple areas from household items to industrial equipment (Guern). Thus, plastics have gained more utility by people. However, many individuals remain ignorant and ultimately unbothered by the other plastic aspect of non-degradability as aforementioned. It is this aspect of plastics that make them a problem whenever they are not properly disposed of.
Still, plastics are just a product and it only rests with people to ensure they are properly disposed once they have been used. However, the current world trends have shown that many people have adopted consumerist behaviours that prompt them to acquire a lot of items (Guern). In the long run, these items become less needed by individuals who will probably still be seeking to satisfy themselves with other new products. This behavior leads to little regards to how the items that were previously acquired get disposed. People tend to discard plastic items carelessly leading to littered environments in many regions. This is greatly evident in cities that house many individuals as they usually produce huge amounts of plastic waste. A walk down beaches famed for attracting large tourist numbers would also indicate the negative impact of human consumption and disregard for the resultant waste products (Guern). Such consumerist lifestyles will only worsen the problems associated with plastic waste pollution. The pollutants will continue to increase in quantity since plastic products will continue to be in demand leading to huge productions while the waste products will continue to pile as they take a very long time to even attempt wasting away.
Effects of Plastic Waste Pollution on Human Lives
Plastic waste pollution on oceans affects several marine lives and in turn, this affects human lives in several ways. Annually, plastics are responsible for the deaths of millions of ocean creatures. Plastics have affected about 700 marine wildlife species including those that have been categorised as endangered (Parker). Such statistics indicate how plastics have gone forward to negatively affect human attempt at protecting different species. When they were first introduced, plastics were meant to help curb the loss of wildlife especially elephants and rhinos that were being poached for their ivory. Plastics went as far as reducing that calamity but looking back at the situation it becomes clear that these efforts may not count for anything seeing that a lot of marine life has been affected by plastic wastes (Hanson). Some aspects of how plastics affect animals can be easily seen. For instance, turtles strangled by synthetic fishing nets and ocean birds trapped by plastic six-pack rings. In other cases, the effects of plastic can go unnoticed. Plastics that have been broken down to small pieces, for instance, easily get consumed by birds and fish. Birds ingest these plastic wastes and as a result, get harmed physiologically and psychologically. Laysan Albatrosses, a type of bird, living in very remote areas such as the Midway Atoll – surrounded by water over large distances – have been recorded consuming plastics that they confuse with their food due to the bright colours. Corpses of the birds reveal a heap of plastic wastes in their stomachs that seem to remain intact (Guern). Such plastics tend to affect the digestion systems and behaviours of these animals. Furthermore, reproductive patterns and systems of these organisms are affected by the plastic waste pollutants. The result of this is the loss of animal lives, possibly even whole species. Ultimately, attempts that are made by people to salvage the situation become futile since plastic waste pollution on oceans seems to reverse any gains made.
Furthermore, certain plastics that end up in oceans are broken down through chemical reactions with the sun as a catalyst. In this case, the plastic materials are worn out slowly and eventually become particles that mix with ocean water and may further react in the process (Hanson). The result of all this is a toxic environment that leads to marine life being lost or adversely affected. The effects of such plastic waste pollution are not limited to any organisms and lead to widespread loss of marine lives and marine habitats. Areas that were initially densely populated by marine life become dangerous forcing animals out of these areas. Since marine ecology is just like terrestrial ecology, the loss of such marine life affects the overall marine ecology creating a shift in the natural balance of organisms in oceans. As such, all organisms from tiny planktons to fish and whales and even to human beings are critically affected (Parker). That is, if a family resided next to an ocean that provided them with lots of fish for food, plastic waste pollution would wipe out their main source of food hence deflating their diet. Thus, such an occurrence only shows the heightened reach of plastic waste pollution effects.
In other instances, plastic wastes in oceans have also interfered with normal anatomy of marine wildlife (Hanson). Whenever small fish, for instance, ingest plastic particles their growth and development become hugely affected. The animals develop abnormally and this affects their natural feeding and breeding habits. Scientists fear that such defects may be carried on to the offspring of these animals. Most of such creatures form an essential part of human meals and such defects may carry forward certain elements into our systems. One can end up having minor health issues that may only worsen with time depending on the scale of the plastic waste pollution and the propensity of consuming such organisms. It is probable that such effects have already begun compounding upon earlier similar issues and it is only with time that the effects will become apparent to people through present healthcare systems. Meanwhile, many individuals may not know that the situation is dire hence not be prepared to handle the issue at all.
Moreover, plastic waste pollution leads to a loss in capital that should otherwise be earned as revenue (Portz, et al. 1421). There are certain countries that hugely rely on revenue gained through their tourism sectors. Countries in the Caribbean, for example, are tourist hubs that normally attract a lot of foreign capital. Plastic waste pollution has affected some of these regions with visible changes being noticed. Beaches contain plastic wastes that are swept from the oceans. Such plastic wastes depreciate the aesthetic values of these beaches. In the end, tourists begin shunning such destinations to look for cleaner beaches. This leads to financial troubles within these countries that may lack other easy platforms for raising equivalents of such finances (Portz, et al. 1421). When such capital is lost certain service industries become further affected. The overall economy and livelihood of the citizens of such countries become negatively affected. Due to plastic waste pollution in oceans a child in a tourist destination, for instance, may fail to attend school as poverty becomes a reality. With such issues, these countries would rely on assistance from other nations and global organizations. This, in turn, affects economies of other nations around the world that have to chip in and help. The earlier people realize how the issue of plastic waste pollution is a threat to the global economy the better.
Nonetheless, plastic wastes in oceans have been swept back to land affecting various elements of human lives. Plastics have presented huge challenges with drainage systems (Coe and Rogers 69). Such items clog drainage pipes on land leading to flooding. Floods are known for their destructive force on both property and lives. Without such plastic wastes in our oceans, it is possible that the levels and impacts of such floods can be reduced by a significant value. In turn, countries have had to deal with the aftermath of such events without realizing that plastic wastes also form a major part of that issue. Probably, only on very rare occasions do weather scientists look at the impact of plastic waste pollution on oceans on significant weather elements such as floods. Thus, dealing with the issue of plastic waste materials can help solve other unseen aspects of human lives and environments.
Moreover, oceans provide human beings with transport routes that assist in delivering people and their goods from one region to the other. Such ocean transport routes help to ease out congestion experienced in road transport systems. Plastic wastes found in oceans can make the process of water transport hectic. Motors of such water vessels, for instance, do get stuck and even damaged upon contact with plastic items (Coe and Rogers 69). Such damages would lead to a lot of wasted time and resources that would have been used to develop other aspects of economies and lives. As such, these plastic wastes become a nuisance to human operations. With estimates showing that the situation is only going to worsen, transport on oceans may be affected so much all over the world. Authorities should attempt to handle the situation before it reaches such a scale.
These are just some of the areas that are commonly associated with plastic waste pollution in oceans. However, the resultant problems are so many with others being greatly unforeseen and dramatic. Take the example of plastic waste playing a role in tactical naval warfare. The 1982 Falklands War saw Argentina outwit Britain through a combination of familiarity with the local ocean tides and currents and British careless dumping of plastic waste into the ocean (Coe and Rogers 69). History has it that the crew of the British frigate HMS Sheffield were dumping plastic waste into the ocean without realizing that data was being collected by their adversaries who were plotting to pinpoint the location of the vessel. Eventually, on May 4th, 1982 Argentina was able to bomb the vessel using their Exocet missile. The ship was hugely damaged with more than 40 individuals losing their lives. Later on, such tactics would influence future naval warfare (Coe and Rogers 69). Meanwhile, the existence of such an event just shows how the effects of plastic waste pollution should not be downplayed.
Solution to the Plastic Waste Pollution Issue
In as much as damages have already occurred and may only worsen the problem of plastic waste pollution can be tackled. The first step of dealing with this issue requires creating public awareness around the subject (Bergmann, et al. 395). This means educating individuals on the properties of these synthetic items and how they, in turn, lead to a pollution crisis if not properly managed. Such awareness would also require a mentioning of how such pollution on oceans affects almost every human life regardless of where one stays. Such an activity would make mention of the issues aforementioned and show how it is as a result of human irresponsibility in handling plastic items. If a majority of people in societies become aware of the impending issue changes may be noticed. Furthermore, such awareness campaigns should be aimed at encouraging individuals to spread the message to other people who may not have access to such awareness programs (Bergmann, et al. 395). It only takes one to know of the problem before any measures can be taken. Following this, any measure that is taken towards handling the mess of plastic waste pollution will be beneficial. Nonetheless, individuals should be made aware of the problem of plastic waste pollution and how it affects our oceans.
With multiple public awareness programs on the issue of plastic waste pollution on oceans coming up, the next step in solving the issue would come from scientific research done on the matter (Bergmann, et al. 429). Many individuals have acted out of curiosity and professionalism to understand how plastic waste affects ocean life and human lives and the necessary measures to be taken to safeguard against these. Such research activities will help come up with new inventive solutions to the problem. Plastic is an important element of human life as it has changed economies for the better. It would only be good if their disposal is treated with the recommendations provided through science. There are already several measures that have been made regarding plastic waste including but not limited to the re-using, recycling, and re-pairing plastic items (Hanson). Such solutions would ultimately lower the rate of production of plastic items and thus lower the amount of plastic waste that annually gets dumped into oceans. Governments are probably engaged in direct and indirect funding of such scientific research in order to ensure that oceans are cleared of plastic wastes. Such scientific research would help come up with applicable solutions to the pollution issue.
The problem of plastic waste pollution on oceans can also be handled hugely through a critical involvement of political action against such tendencies (Bergmann, et al. 405). Politicians form governments in several countries on the planet. It is these individuals who have been granted authorities by their respective states to make critical changes to legislations and other aspects of governance. To that extent, political action against plastic waste pollution can yield great results. Actions such as bans of the products in some regions or in certain forms have been enforced in the past and should be looked at to offer solutions. The immense power that comes with political influence should be used to gain a similar weight of solution on the matter (Bergmann, et al. 405). Otherwise, the little that individuals and other environmental organizations are doing to correct the issue will not be very effective. As such, political action should be utilized greatly to help curb and reverse the pollution of oceans with plastic wastes.
Moreover, the issue of plastic waste pollution should be handled through joint action and not by single groups isolated from each other. Scientists, researchers, politicians, and non-governmental agencies should work together and share data on the issue (Bergmann, et al. 410). In doing so, it becomes much easier to understand the amount of damage that has already been done by the phenomenon and what is required to correct that. Furthermore, this should reflect the reasoning that the effects of plastic waste pollution in oceans is not isolated to places, groups, or individuals. It is, therefore, only through joint co-operation and action that such an issue can be tackled appropriately. Knowledge shared among such groups can be translated into the most effective solutions, a fete not possible when relying on a single institution’s data regarding plastic wastes pollution. A lot of thought should be put into this matter as it would help change marine environments and life for the better.
Plastic waste pollution on oceans has greatly increased since the phenomenon was first hypothesized and recorded in the 1970s. Furthermore, estimates indicate that pollution on oceans as a result of plastic wastes will only continue to worsen if the current situation is not rectified. There are various aspects of plastics that make them appealing to people. However, people’s careless handling of these products compounded with certain aspects of plastic items has led to the current situation. The situation has not only threatened marine life and environments but has also affected human lifestyles and environments. A lot of money is being lost due to the pollution crisis and health matters also indicate that the issue may cause unforeseen issues in the near future. It is crucial that the issue of plastic waste pollution is solved otherwise oceans will harbour a lot of dangerous wastes. Governments, scientists, researchers, politicians, and environmental agencies should work together and be on the forefront of solving this matter. This paper as a research document is aimed at providing data that in co-operation with other materials should pave way for gaining answers to the issue.
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