Day 90 – Cleaning Up Ocean Plastic Waste

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): Over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications. At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year, and make up 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and deaths. Plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.

The main sources of marine plastic are land-based, from urban and storm runoff, sewer overflows, beach visitors, inadequate waste disposal and management, industrial activities, construction and illegal dumping. Ocean-based plastic originates mainly from the fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture. Under the influence of solar UV radiation, wind, currents and other natural factors, plastic fragments into small particles, termed microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm) or nanoplastics (particles smaller than 100 nm).

Discover Magazine: The biggest sources of human exposure to microplastics likely come from airborne dust, drinking water (including treated tap water and bottled water) and seafood (shellfish in particular, because we eat the entire animal). Scientists have also detected microplastics in products such as sugar, honey, beer and sea salt. Emerging research suggests humans are consuming more than 100,000 microplastic particles a year. 

Microplastics are now considered an emerging food safety concern. One of the reasons scientists are concerned about microplastic exposure is all the chemicals that hitch a ride in the polymer. Plastic in the ocean or bodies of water also attracts pollutants like heavy metals and organic contaminants, such as organochlorine pesticides, which are attracted to plastic’s water-repellent surface. Many of these chemicals and contaminants have potential health effects.

Earth Day is changing human attitudes about and behavior toward plastics and reducing plastic pollution. The End Plastic Pollution campaign helps people understand the impacts of plastic pollution on human and ecosystem health and how everyday actions can lessen the problem.

The campaign draws attention to the harmful effects of plastic in our environment — harming marine and human health, littering beaches and landscapes, clogging waste streams and landfills — and empowers people to make a difference. Some suggestions they offer are:

  • always carry a reusable bag
  • add reusable eating utensils to your every day carry out 
  • join a clean-up effort

Furthermore, they promote the typically known 3 Rs:

  • Reduce your own plastic waste
  • Reuse – choose quality and durability over convenience
  • Recycle – find the plastics you no longer need and dispose of them properly

As well as adding 3 new ones: 

  • Remove – pick up trash in your neighborhood and when visiting parks and beaches
  • Refuse – make a habit of saying “No straw, please,” and “I brought my own cup, thanks”
  • Rally – vote for candidates committed to protecting and improving our environment

I must admit, I do very little beyond avoiding the improper disposal of trash. Perhaps by performing the research for this article, giving to the cause, as well as praying on behalf of the issue, I will become a better informed and active citizen and steward of our environment.