For the last half-century, plastic has become an integral part of our daily life. From furniture to grocery bags, from vehicle parts to toys, plastic is an unavoidable element of our lives in a variety of forms. However, from being regarded as a very vital presence in the contemporary world, plastic has now come to be looked upon as a material of immense potential destruction and harm.
As is commonly known, plastic isn’t biodegradable, which accentuates the threat of lingering waste plastic for years and for generations to come. According to estimates, people around the world throw away almost four million tons of trash every day, of which 12.8% is plastic, polluting land, air, and water. While plastic thrown into landfills contaminates the soil and groundwater with harmful chemicals and microorganisms, the effects of marine pollution caused by plastic are immeasurable.
Plastic waste in Oceans
Just like on land, even in the oceanic areas, the effects of plastic on marine life has started to be felted, hard. Studies reveal that around 12.7 million tons of plastic waste is washed into the ocean every year. The United Nations Environment Program estimates there could be as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in the oceans already.
In just a few years, we might end up with a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the sea. But the future of plastics in our ocean will be determined by the way we handle plastics on land. 80% of plastic in our oceans is from land sources.
This is so heartbreaking because oceans cover more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. Sea plants and phytoplankton produce 70% of the oxygen we breathe, and the deep waters are home to wildlife and some of the biggest creatures on earth.
Effects on Marine Animals
Plastic in the Ocean has a disproportionately large impact on ocean wildlife. Thousands of animals, from small finches to blue whales, die grisly deaths from eating and getting caught in plastic.
Fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, which can cause intestinal injury and death and transfers plastic up the food chain to bigger fish, marine mammals and human seafood eaters. A recent study found that a quarter of fish at markets in California contained plastic in their guts, mostly in the form of plastic microfibers.
Sea turtles can mistake floating plastic garbage for food. They can choke, sustain internal injury and die; or starve by thinking they’re full of eating plastic. Tragically, research indicates that half of sea turtles worldwide have ingested plastic. New studies find plastic pollution is so pervasive on many beaches that it is affecting their reproduction.
Hundreds of thousands of seabirds ingest plastic every year. Plastic ingestion reduces the storage volume of the stomach, causing starvation. It’s estimated that 60 percent of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic, with that number predicted to increase to 99 percent by 2050. Dead seabirds are often found with stomachs full of plastic, reflecting how the amount of garbage in our oceans has rapidly increased in the past 40 years.
Marine mammals ingest and get tangled up in, plastic. Large amounts of plastic debris have been found in the habitat of critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals, including in areas that serve as pup nurseries. Entanglement in plastic debris has also led to injury and mortality in the endangered Steller sea lion, with packing bands the most common entangling material. Dead whales have been found with bellies full of plastic.
Effects of Plastic on Forests and Wildlife
We already know about the terrible plastic soup brewing in our oceans, which is accounting for the death of over 100 million marine animals each year.
Plastic is equally harmful above water as it is below. It can result in the widespread destruction of terrestrial wildlife and forests, but how exactly does plastic affect forests and wildlife?
Microplastics in our Soil
Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic that pollute the environment. A microplastic is defined as a plastic particle that is less than five millimeters. According to the UN Environment, researchers in Germany warned that the impact of microplastics in soils, sediments, and freshwater could have long-term negative effects on such ecosystems.
Microplastics enter these ecosystems through a variety of techniques. Sewage is a key factor in the distribution of microplastics. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of the plastic particles contained in sewage persist in the sludge. This sewage sludge is massively used as fertilizer, thus causing the wide dispersion of microplastics in our soils.
This can be detrimental to the environment because the surfaces of tiny fragments of plastic may carry bacteria, viruses, and protists that act as vectors for diseases. Microplastics can further interact with soil fauna, affecting their health and functions. Based on their research, UN Environment stated, “Earthworms, for example, make their burrows differently when microplastics are present in the soil, affecting the earthworm’s fitness and the soil condition.” This can further damage the rest of the environment by reducing forest flora that are dependent on earthworms.
Another way that plastic affects our wildlife and forests is the concentration of microplastics in food chains. These concentrated microplastics release additives like phthalates and Bisphenol A (widely known as BPA), which can result in the disruption of the hormone system of vertebrates and invertebrates alike. When in higher climates, plastics can leach different chemicals such a fire-retardants, parabens, artificial dyes, and much more into soil and water systems and bind to different particles, which makes them persistent and lasting in those ecosystems.
Harmful for Biodiversity
We now know that plastic can be very harmful to entire ecosystems, but let’s dig a little deeper to find out how plastics impact wild animals in particular. Plastic, the pesky substance that it is, manages to sneak into and damage several bodily functions of animals. Hungry animals usually smell food in plastic containers and bags. However, their curiosity and desire for food often cause them to get their heads, feet or wings trapped in the plastic. In the case where the limbs of animals are trapped, it makes them less agile and more vulnerable to predators, competitors, and environmental stress. If they manage to eat the plastic, it can also cause intestinal blockages and can become fatal for that animal.
This phenomenon is especially problematic because of how widespread it is. People often dump a lot of plastic near or in patches of unprotected wild land, which means that the probability of wild animals encountering plastic increases exponentially. Thus, the animals will be in imminent danger of either being trapped in, inconvenienced by or accidentally consuming this toxic material.
While a lot of wildlife and forests are protected as National and State Reserves across the world; several unprotected areas are still vulnerable to plastic pollution. Plastic affects our wildlife, forests, and oceans greatly.
"Our job as informed citizens of this planet is to do our bit to ensure the safety of rapidly declining and highly endangered flora and fauna. It’s not too late to make a difference. The overall reduction in consumption and the reuse of plastic will result in less plastic circulating through trash piles that can reach the soil, forests, and the oceans"
_Also, using biodegradable and compostable products can offset your plastic footprint on the planet. There are companies that make biodegradable products like Green Ocean Group. Further, we must close the loop on plastic in order for it to never leak into the environment.
How Green Ocean Group can help?
Green Ocean Group sells eco-friendly compostable bags and packaging film to retail businesses. Its products dissolve in hot water within 5 minutes, therefore, one of the best alternative retail products in order to heavily reduce plastic waste in all over the world. Also, Green Ocean Group will be donating profit to plant trees in the Amazon rainforest to help out with deforestation!
Part of our goals are:
- Ocean and marine life protection
- Fast reduction of plastic pollution in the world
- Eliminate all plastic bags
- Fight against deforestation, especially in the Amazon Rainforest; for a stable climate and 20% of the world’s oxygen
The more Green Ocean Group products we use, the less plastic pollution will be there and fewer animals will die.
It's our responsibility to help our planet by reducing plastic!