Plastic. It’s everywhere.
From food packaging to fabrics and face wash, this modern “miracle” invention can be found in some shape or form in nearly all of the products that we purchase and use. While this might be convenient for us, that is about where the accolades of this material end.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in one year alone, the U.S. produces a staggering 32 million tons of plastic waste and only around nine percent is recovered for recycling. This means the majority of plastics end up in landfills and much of it never makes it that far; plastic also has a tendency to wind up in local waterways and our oceans. While we might understand that plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is not a good thing, we are only just beginning to realize the impact that plastics have on marine ecosystems.
There are an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the ocean and according to a recent study authored by researchers at Plymouth University, a staggering 700 different marine species are threatened by its presence. More than this, researchers believe that plastic plays a role in rising rates of species extinction.
Research found that 693 species had been documented as having encountered plastic debris, with nearly 400 involving entanglement and ingestion. Between entanglement, ingestion and ecosystem damage, the threat of plastic pollution impacts marine species both large and small.
“We found that all known species of sea turtle, and more than half of all species of marine mammal and seabird had been affected by marine debris – and that number has risen since the last major study,” explains Sarah Gall, one of the report’s authors.
We have seen around 52 percent of the world’s wildlife disappear in the past 40 years, and if we continue to dump plastic into the world’s oceans, this number is set to increase exponentially. The good news is that we can all help turn the tides for marine animals. Although humans are to blame for plastic pollution, this means we also have the power to stop this marine destruction. So, if you want to stand up for the world’s marine animals, the best place to start is with your personal plastic consumption. Check out these five ways you can help save marine species now!
1. Replace all Disposables With Reusables
Think about your daily routine – how many times do you use something that is made of plastic and disposable? Water bottles, plastic utensils, to-go containers, straws, Q-tips, toothbrush. You probably don’t even realize how many disposable items you use every day, plastic can be a sneaky thing! While they might not seem very significant, remember that every piece of plastic you throw out has the potential to wind up in the ocean. Luckily, there are reusable alternatives to virtually all of the disposable plastics you might use. Check out ReUseIt and start kicking plastic out of your routine!
2. Swear off Plastic Bags
By now, you’ve probably caught on to the reusable grocery bag trend. This is a great place to start, but there are many other places where plastic bags show up on a daily basis. In fact, it is estimated that the average American throws out 10 plastic bags a week! When plastic bags make their way into the oceans, marine animals can easily ingest them, which causes gastrointestinal blockages and other serious health problems. To help keep plastic bags out of the oceans and away from marine animals, carry a reusable bag where ever you go – not just the grocery store! You can purchase convenient reusable bags that roll up to fit easily in your pocket or purse.
3. Check Personal Products for Microbeads
Have you checked your toothpaste and face wash for plastic? Certain exfoliants and “deep-cleaning” toothpastes actually contain tiny plastic microbeads. These small beads easily travel through water filtration systems and end up in lakes, streams, and the ocean. One single tube of face wash can contain around 300,000 of these plastic beads.
Studies have found thousands of plastic beads in the stomachs of fish and other aquatic animals. These plastics leach toxins and can cause digestive issues in animals. Not to mention, these plastics can travel up the food chain and research shows that the fish many people eat actually contain plastic.
Be sure to check your personal care products for microbeads. You can even download this handy app to find out if the products you use contain these sneaky beads.
4. Avoid Synthetic Fabrics
While you may know that synthetic clothing and materials aren’t made of natural fibers, did you know they are actually derived from plastic? Rayon, polyester and nylon fabrics are made of thousands of tiny, plastic microfibers. Although these garments are versatile and easy to clean, they leach plastic fibers every time they go through the washing machine. Nearly 1,900 microfibers are released from a single synthetic garment every single time you wash it!
Like microbeads, microfibers can pass through water treatment plants unaltered and enter into waterways and the ocean where they are ingested by marine species. According to ecologist Mark Browne, worldwide, around 100,000 marine animals accidentally consume plastics, like microfibers, spreading toxins through the ecosystem.
While it might be difficult to avoid synthetic fabrics, reducing the number of new items you purchase is a great way to lower the amount of microfibers you’re adding to the water system. Opt for high-quality natural fabrics like linen, hemp or soy silk over synthetics. Check out this article for some other great, planet-friendly options.
5. Learn to Live Waste-Free
Achieving a 100 percent waste-free lifestyle is challenging, but it is certainly not impossible. Just take a page from Lauren Singer, the 23-year-old who can store all the waste she’s produced in the past two years in a single mason jar! Finding new ways to avoid plastics by making your own food or beauty products will not only make you feel incredibly accomplished, but it can save you money and help keep tons of plastic out of the oceans. To learn more about how to make your life a little less wasteful, check out these resources: