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The Issue With Plastics

The current period of human history can be referred to as the Plastic Age. (Yarsley & Couzens, 1945). The accumulation of plastic debris can be attributed to the intense consumption and rapid disposal of plastic products. (Barnes et al., 2009). 10% of all solid wastes are plastic (Heap, 2009) and of the wastes that accumulates on shorelines, the ocean surface, and seabed, 80% is plastic. (Barnes et al., 2009). Since 1950, the world’s use of plastic has increased from 0.5 to 260 million tons (Heap, 2009) and with that so has the amount of plastic wastes entering the ocean.

Plastics durability and light weight add to the negative effects plastic has on the ocean. Plastics don’t biodegrade and are particularly buoyant which lends to its hazards. Most plastics on the ocean surface are considered to be microplastics (Hidalgo-Ruz et al., 2012) and could potentially last for thousands of years before degrading. (Barnes et al., 2009). Buoyancy can also contribute to plastics ability to be carried by ocean currents and across ocean basins. Large accumulations of plastic have been found in all the ocean basins. (Cozar et al., 2014). The circulation patterns of the ocean form large gyres in the middle of oceans where plastic accumulates. Sea life is more likely to ingest plastic than to be entangled in it. (Laist, 1997). As the size of plastic particles decreases the possibility of it being ingested increases. (de Stephanis et al., 2013). Plastic fragments and resin pellets are unfortunately common within marine environments (Ogata et al., 2009) and the open ocean. (Moret-Ferguson et al., 2010).

Plastic in the ocean is not only an issue in itself, but the chemicals contained in plastics as additives can be toxic when transported into marine organisms. (Mato et al., 2001). Toxic PCBs have been transferred into seabirds through direct ingestion of plastic (Yamashita et al., 2011) and through digestion of prey in which PCBs have biomagnified through the food chain. A study focusing on PBDEs, chemicals applied to plastics as flame retardants, found that of the seabirds examined, each had 0.04-0.05 g of plastic in their stomachs. (Tanaka et al., 2012). PBDEs have been classified as persistent organic pollutants, (UNEP, 2001) meaning their rate of bioaccumulation, persistence, and toxicity make environmental degradation almost impossible. Plastics and the chemicals associated with them can have major negative effects on the health of marine ecosystems

By simply avoiding single use plastic that is immediately disposed after use, you can make a huge difference in the amount of plastics entering the ocean.

Pledge to join the “Three for the Sea” movement and pick up at least three pieces of trash every time you go to the beach.

Taylor Cunningham