Plastic is a necessary evil. You can hardly do away with it. The amount of plastic that is disposed off every year can circle the earth four times. Every day we come across plastic in various forms such as garbage and grocery bags, bottles, food containers, computer keyboards, plastic mouse, coffee cup lids and other such products. Though plastic products are very convenient to use, they play a harmful role in polluting the environment. Till the year 2000, the amount of plastic that was manufactured was far less as compared to that made in the first decade of this century. But where is all the plastic going? It would be startling to note that billions of tons of plastic is ending up in the world’s oceans. Discarded plastic products can be found even in extreme polar latitudes.
Actually ocean pollution starts out on land and is carried away by wind and rain to the sea. Plastic gets accumulated in water and it takes thousands of years for it to decay. According to a new study, around eight million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. However, if prompt action is not taken, this figure will increase by ten times during the next ten years. Plastic wastes can easily be transported to long distances because of their low density. These are collected and gathered in gyres, system of rotating ocean currents. A vast island of plastic is made as these wastes merge in the ocean where currents unite. An example of this is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Located in central North Pacific Ocean, it is twice the size of Texas. Garbage patches can also be seen in the Indian and the Atlantic Ocean and till date five patches have been discovered. Fish and other marine animals mistake the small particles floating on the surface for food.
Sources of Plastic Toxin in the Oceans
Around 20% of the plastics entering the oceans usually come from ships and platforms which are offshore. While wind blows away rest of the trash into the oceans, waves on the beach take some of them into the sea. The intentional dumping of garbage is also very much predominant these days. Marine animals consume tiny particles of plastics mistaking them for food. Every year one million sea birds, 100,000 mammals and other marine animals are killed as they either get entangled in plastic or eat it.
Wildlife is Paying a Heavy Price
The chemicals which are released from plastics into the water and the atmosphere contaminate the fishes and as a result the plastic chemicals are entering the food chain. Fish in the North Pacific ingest around 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic every year causing intestinal injury and death.
Floating plastic bags are also mistaken as food by the sea turtles. Ingestion of plastic can lead to blockage in the gut, ulceration and even death. Due to the ingestion of plastic, the sea birds consume less food as the storage volume of the stomach is getting reduced and as a result they starve. Marine animals like Hawaiian monk seals (which are on the verge of extinction) and stellar sea lion ingest and get entangled in plastic.
Impact of Plastic on Human Health
Pollution caused by plastic is not only harmful for marine life but is also affecting health of humans. The harmful chemicals like PCBs, DDT and PAH, which get absorbed in the plastic debris that floats in the sea water, have a varied and harmful range of chronic effects like endocrine disorders. The toxins are transferred in the food chain as they get absorbed in the animals’ body after they eat the plastic pieces. Human beings consume these contaminated fish and mammals.
Plastic pollution is affecting the global economy. It is destroying the fishing and aquaculture industries. Apart from this, the tourism industry is also adversely affected as the beaches and oceans have been transformed into landfills.
According to the UN Environment Programme Executive Director Ached Steiner, “Marine Debris – trash in our oceans – is a symptom of our throw-away society and our approach to how we use our natural resources.” It has been found that an average person produces half a pound of plastic waste everyday. So, it is no wonder why the oceans are being filled up with plastic debris. It is time the government takes stringent steps to overcome the problems before it spirals out of control.
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