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Plastic Pollution in the Ocean: Why it’s a problem and how we can reduce our plastic consumption

Lauren Clark
Technical
Plastic pollution in our ocean
The ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and accounts for 97% of the water on the planet. The ocean plays a crucial role in the Earth’s equilibrium, and as it continuously exchanges with the atmosphere, it is also at the heart of our climate system. Indeed, the ocean stores 93% of the carbon on our planet and provides 50% of the oxygen we breathe. However, our ocean is threatened by global warming and pollution. Plastic pollution in the ocean is a major issue that not only impacts the ocean’s ecosystems, it affects our health as well. 

If drastic measures are not taken to combat plastic pollution, the ocean could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. The majority of plastic pollution, nevertheless, remains mostly invisible to the human eye: 90% of the volume of plastic waste in the ocean consists of microplastics, which are found everywhere in the ocean and at almost any depth. This represents nearly 270,000 tons of plastic, which is virtually impossible to remove from the ocean.


Microplastics & its negative effects
Microplastics are defined as “small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States (NOAA). These microplastics come from many sources, whether from exfoliants in health and beauty products (cleansers and toothpastes) or from clothing containing plastics (polyester, nylon, acrylic, polyamide, etc.) that are too small to be filtered through, and thus end up in the ocean. 

Microplastics float on the surface of ocean waters where the base of the chain begins: with phytoplankton. Fish feeding on these microalgae also ingest plastic pollution, and the cycle continues along the food chain - ultimately ending up on our plates. Large sea animals (turtles, dolphins, etc.) are also affected by our plastic waste, whether they eat it or end up entangled in it. More than 700 species in the ocean are directly impacted by plastic pollution. For example, plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtle species.

Not only does plastic pollution negatively affect sea life, but it is harmful to humans as well. As a result of their persistence and resistance to decomposing, microplastics are virtually impossible to filter and are thus present in tap water, bottled water, or even in animal tissues that one may consume. Indeed, an individual could ingest about 250 grammes, or half-a-pound of plastic over the course of a year, which is about a credit card’s worth of plastic every single week. Plastics are detrimental to human health - chemicals in plastic can trigger rising levels of abnormal development and illnesses, ranging from stunted fertility and male/female sex malformations to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart attacks and cognitive, behavioural and other brain-related problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADH), according to hormone specialists.
 
From destroying entire ecosystems to littering our planet’s beautiful ocean and polluting our bodies, plastic is a dangerous and persistent pollutant that must be eliminated, or at the very best, reduced. But how can we reduce our plastic production and consumption when plastic seems to infiltrate all aspects of life - from the toothbrushes we use and their packaging, to plastic encasing on food products, plastic containers for household products or health necessities… it seems almost impossible to escape this pollutant.


Nevertheless, there are ways to reduce our plastic consumption
   
Bring your own reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water: If you like sparkling water, consider investing in a seltzer water maker.
    Bring your own bags to the grocery store: Don’t use individual plastic bags for your fruits and veggies; opt for a cotton bag or none at all
    Invest in inox or glass storage containers: Think about reusing pasta sauce jars or takeout containers
    Say no to plastic straws and plastic cutlery: Consider investing in glass or inox straws and bamboo cutlery (or just bring your cutlery from home!)
    Say no to plastic film wrap: Consider investing in reusable wax wraps like Beeswax wraps
    Ditch single-serving tea sachets, too much packaging: Consider investing in a loose-leaf tea strainer and delicious loose-leaf teas.
    Bring back the milkman: Say no to milk in plastic bottles - or simply don’t drink it at all. Glass bottles for plant-based milks should also be created!!
    Take a look at this website for more ideas on how to reduce your plastic consumption! 

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Article written by Lauren Clark

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