During the past decade, the plastic debris in the oceans has been found guilty of one of the most terrible crimes: murder.
There are over 100 million animals killed each year by plastic waste and, if we won’t take action as soon as possible, the problem will get worse.
A few months ago, a video about some volunteers trying to help a turtle with a straw stuck up his nostril went viral. After that video, a huge online campaign against using plastic drinking straws with the slogan “Straws Kill Turtles” started.
However, is that actually true? Or is it just one of the many campaigns we see on social networks?
I found out that plastic drinking straws are most commonly made from a kind of plastic called “type 5”, or polypropylene. Although type 5 plastic can be recycled, it isn’t accepted by most curbside recycling programs. Therefore, most of it ends up in the oceans.
The most affected animals, though, are not turtles. Indeed, while about 30% of turtles are affected by plastic waste, the species that suffers the most are the seabirds. In fact, it is found that every year 80-90% of seabirds have some type of plastic inside of their stomachs, which causes them indigestion and leads them to choke, bringing their chances of mortality to be at around 50%.
Moreover, the evil here is not the plastic in itself, but those who are responsible for its presence in the ocean. We, as humans, are the ones causing the problem, and it is time to make a difference. We use so much disposable plastic in our day to day lives. We use plastic bottles, straws, cutlery, cups, packagings, just to name a few. Around 8 million metric tons of plastic end up yearly in our oceans; that is the equivalent of five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world. If we don’t act now, in 2015 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
Going back to the example of straws: just in the US, 500 million straws are used every day. Straws in our favorite soda or in the aperitif we just can’t miss. However, there are other plastic items that cause even more harm than these as hated as used straws:
- Balloons, the most common non-recyclable waste you can find while whale watching.
- Cigarette butts; that not only harm our health, but also the marine habitat’s.
- Bottle caps; that are a huge choking hazard for marine life and sea birds.
- Plastic bags, which are already banned/taxed in several countries including Italy, Morocco, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.
- Fishing gear; indeed, the largest conglomerate of plastic pollution in our oceans is made of mainly fishing gear and weighs more than 87,000 tons.
Sometimes we think there is no other alternative, but there is. On a daily basis, we can all try to reduce our plastic usage with simple moves: bringing our reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, saying no to straws and start drinking from the cup, preferring a paper or glass option than a plastic one, buying a reusable water bottle, not packing our fruits with tons of plastic and preferring not individually packed snacks.
The plastic in the ocean doesn’t just disappear over time, it simply breaks down into smaller particles. These tiny particles can be eaten by the fish that live there and, consequently, it could also enter into our food chain. As Feuerbach said in the 19th century “We are what we eat”, and I would also add “We also are what our food eats” so, it doesn’t matter if what motivates you to reduce plastic waste is your own health or the environment’s, what matters is we all take care of this issue and take action.