September 25, 2017

Alarmingly Oceans Are Contaminated With Plastics

By San Shwe Aung

This article is dedicated to the “Earth Day” which falls on 22nd April every year since 1970. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Twenty years later, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 50,000 partners in nearly 195 countries to build environmental democracy. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.
Clean water is essential for human survival and the whole world is concerned for the availability of clean drinking water, clean domestic water and clean water resources including “clean ocean” which is indispensable for the health & growth of marine bodies, fish and other marine lives. Many environmental bodies around the world are concerned about the contamination of seas and oceans by various kinds of wastes including plastics.
Plastic is essential for modern way of life in many different forms. Perhaps we, modern people, cannot survive without plastic. The majority of accessories  and home appliances, we use everyday, are made of plastics; such as bags, cups, spoons, boxes, food packages, trash bins, TVs, telephone handsets, computers, laptops, containers, stools, chairs, many components in cars, motorbikes and you name it. Then the problems start when we dispose of old used plastic accessories. According to the research and studies, just 5% of waste plastic is effectively recycled at recycle plants in the world. Where do the rest of plastic wastes go then? Of course many plastic wastes are dumped on the ground (or land filling dumping sites) and many plastics go into the waterways, creeks, rivers and then into the seas.  In the world, one refuse truck’s-worth of assorted plastic debris is dumped into the sea every minute, and the situation is getting worse.
According to “Ocean Conservancy” organization, 192 countries bordering the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Oceans and Mediterranean and Black Seas produced 2.5 Billion Metric Tons of solid waste in 2010. An estimated 8 Million Metric Tons of plastic entered the oceans that same year. Out of 2.5 Billion Metric Tons of solid waste 275 Million Metric Tons are plastic waste. 2 Billion people living within 30 miles of the coast create and dump 100 Million Metric Tons of coastal plastic waste. “Ocean Conservancy staff members are scientists and lawyers, accountants and advocates. But they are also surfers and divers, fishermen and kayakers, who love the seas and oceans.”

Constantly increased use of plastic
“The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking The Future Of Plastics” a report produced by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in March 2016 highlighted  that plastics production has increased twentyfold since 1964, reaching 311 Million Tons in 2014.  It is expected to double again in the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050. Despite the growing demand, just 5% of plastics are recycled effectively, while 40% end up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems such as the world’s oceans. Much of the remainder is burned, generating energy, but causing more fossil fuels to be consumed in order to make new plastic bags, cups, tubs and consumer devices demanded by the economy. Every human being has to take the following warning very seriously; “A carelessly discarded plastic bag can break down in the sea, especially in warmer waters, but the process releases toxic chemicals that may be digested by fish and end up in the human food chain.”
A recent claim that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 was intended to highlight a pollution crisis in the oceans. The problem really does exist, but do the figures hold water, or is there something fishy going on? The prediction was made by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum, in the above mentioned report, which looks at the amount of plastic that ends up in the sea. One of the big headlines from the report was that if we continue dumping plastic in the sea at the present rate, measured by weight, there will be more plastic than fish by 2050.

Sources of Plastic Toxins Entering the Ocean Food Chain
Trash in world’s oceans threatens wildlife, economy and human health, UN warns. 11% of all solid waste entering into the seas is plastic trash. Marine debris – trash in our oceans – is a symptom of our throw-away society and our unwise approach to how we use our natural resources. Our tendency as humans to be irresponsible about cleaning up after ourselves is about to get us in trouble. We risk losing many species in the ocean as well as negatively effecting ourselves. The average person produces half a pound of plastic waste every day. No wonder the oceans are filling up with waste! As far as plastic entering the ocean, about 20% of the trash comes from ships and platforms that are offshore. The rest sources from litter being blown into the sea, picked up by tides on the beach, or intentional garbage dumping. The worse part is, these plastics don’t biodegrade, so they brake up into tiny pieces that are consumed by fish and sea mammals. Plastic is killing more than 100,000 sea turtles and birds a year from ingestion and entanglement. Chemicals in plastics are released into the water as well as the atmosphere. Fish easily become contaminated from the chemicals in the water. This is a direct link of how plastic chemicals enter the food chain. Different plastics spread throughout the ocean. As styrofoam breaks into smaller parts, polystyrene components which sink lower in the ocean, so that the pollutant spreads throughout the sea column. In fact, not only do the toxins in plastic effect the ocean, but acting like sponges, they soak up other toxins from outside sources before entering the ocean. As these chemicals are ingested by animals in the ocean, this is not good for humans. We as humans ingest contaminated fish and mammals. There are different types of ways that plastic is dangerous for humans. Direct toxicity from plastics comes from lead, cadmium, and mercury. These toxins have also been found in many fish in the ocean, which is very dangerous for humans. Other toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues.  Part of the problem is that we don’t recognize how this issue starts with the individual. There are obviously life style changes we can make to solve this problem. We just have to be willing to accept this issue and look past our denial. The government also needs to make regulations on plastics if anything is going to change. Surprisingly, there is little to no information on governmental websites about pollution in the oceans. Perhaps they are afraid to address the problem; it is a costly fix. However there have been some treaties formed to minimize the amount of trash entering the oceans. This is still not enough. The grassroots organizations are vital to the protection of the oceans, striving to spread information and awareness about this tragic pollution. We should really all be involved because it is everyone’s responsibility. Let us make these changes before it is too late and we kill the all oceanic life, or even our own. In a major report issued few years ago – Marine Litter: A Global Challenge – UNEP details the human actions, accidental or intentional, that are the sources of marine litter. Ocean-based sources include merchant shipping, cruise liners, fishing vessels and military as well as offshore oil and gas platforms and drilling rigs, and aquaculture. On land, the culprits include beaches, piers, harbours, marinas, docks and riverbanks, and municipal landfills located on the coast, as well as rivers, lakes and ponds that are used as illegal dump sites, discharges of untreated municipal sewage and storm water, industrial facilities, and medical waste. We now produce 20 times more plastic than we did in 1964, a vast rubbish-scape of bottles and wrapping and hard plastic lids that is expected to double in size in the next 20 years – and almost quadruple in size by 2050. These were the findings of a 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, launched at Davos last year. But the new plastics economy isn’t yet here. To help us over the threshold, the report’s authors suggest three decisive strategies.
1. Improve the way we design, recycle and re-use plastics.  About 30% of the plastic we create is destined for landfill (or the ocean). The report urges a fundamental rethink of the way we design packaging, in order to make what happens to it, after we’ve used it, a little less hard on the environment.
2. For at least 20% of plastic waste, re-use is an economically attractive option.     New and creative delivery models based on reusable packaging could unlock an economic opportunity to the tune of $9 billion, according to the report.
3. For the remaining 50% of plastic, we need to make recycling pay.  Improving packaging at the design stage would make recycling easier. It would also make it more profitable than sending plastic waste to landfill.
Underpinning these three actions, say the report’s authors, is the issue of how plastics are made. A lot of plastic is currently derived from crude oil. But it doesn’t have to be: switching to renewable sources such as natural gas or the by-products of natural gas processing would bring us many steps closer to a greener, cleaner plastics economy. All it would take is some circular-economy thinking, and for everyone – from packagers to politicians to the people who buy the products – getting on board. All in all this is an alarming time for every human being to reduce, re-use and recycle the plastic products especially plastic bags to protect our earth, its bio-diversity and our valuable marine life.

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