Plastic pollution is an environmental catastrophe that we can all take responsibility for creating. The choices we make as consumers are literally choking the life out of our global ecosystem. A new documentary, Inside the Garbage of the World, says its so bad, we may not be able to recover. The images are disturbing. But perhaps we need to see exactly what we are causing by accepting yet another plastic bag for our groceries, or purchasing another plastic bottle full of water or buying another throw away plastic toy made from questionable materials.
Our careless use of plastics has created an eco-nightmare. The largest landfill in the world is not located on land, it’s in the Pacific Ocean. Ninety percent of the plastic trash we generate makes its way into the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” where it’s trapped in rotating currents. Of the five subtropical gyres in the Indian Ocean, North and South Atlantic, and North and South Pacific, the Eastern Garbage Patch in the Pacific is the largest. Located between the U.S. Hawaii and California it covers an area half the size of the continental U.S.
An estimated 4.7 million tons of plastic trash ends up in our oceans each year. According to the United Nations there are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean. The wave action churns the trash into a toxic plastic soup that destroys sea life and marine ecosystems. Small pieces of plastic are mistaken for food by birds and sea animals killing an estimated 300,000 animals each year. A young sperm whale that washed ashore in California was found to have 400 pounds of plastic lodged in its stomach.
The plastic particles act like sponges for waterborne contaminants such as PCBs, DDT, herbicides, PAHs, and other persistent organic pollutants. Plastics such as polycarbonate, polystyrene, and PETE sink to the bottom, where they smother and kill marine life on the ocean floor. Other plastics such as LDPE, HDPE, polypropylene and foamed plastics float.
Fish swallow toxic plastic chemicals like BPA which disrupts embryonic development in both animals and humans and is linked to heart disease and cancer. Phthalates, dysregulate gene expression and prenatal exposure has been linked to reduced IQ. Why should this be cause for concern? Plastic pollution impacts the food chain. Once the plastic becomes micronized, it winds up in some of the seafood you eat.
Cultivate Conscious Choices – Cut Down on Your Waste
Become sustainably creative. Seek out purchases that are not made from or packaged in plastic. Always choose reusable over single-use. Bottled water is a case in point.
Single use plastic bottles is a major offenders. In the United States and Canada, we discard over half a billion bottles of water every week and the impact on the environment is enormous. Recycling is a step in the right direction, but adopting a reduce and reuse philosophy is better.
Use reusable shopping bags for groceries.
Take your own containers to restaurants or bulk food stores.
Use your own mug for coffee and bring drinking water from home in glass water bottle or thermos.
Say no plastic to newspaper delivery and to your dry cleaners.
Store foods in glass containers or mason jars rather than plastic containers and plastic freezer bags.
Avoid disposable utensils.
Buy foods in bulk when you can.
Use non-disposable razors, washable feminine hygiene products, cloth diapers, handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues.
Use washable rags in lieu of paper towels.
Purchase wooden infant toys instead of plastic.
Avoid processed foods which are stored in plastic bags laced with chemicals.
When buying fresh produce forgo the small plastic bags.
Repurpose products whenever possible.
Purchase locally sourced and locally crafted goods.
Freecycle.org enables you to give products you no longer need away to others instead of throwing them away. Their worldwide membership is now over 5 million in more than 85 countries.