Plastic Pollution: It’s a Real Problem
Cameron, North Carolina
2016, Middle School, Prose
Plastic. This word probably sounds familiar. It’s what the bag your groceries came in is made of, it’s what that water bottle you drink from is made of, and it likely surrounds you every day of your life if you live in an urban or industrialized area. Many people all over the world wouldn’t give a second thought to throwing an empty bottle or something of the like in the trash. Maybe they would if they knew what really happened to their garbage after it went into the trash can. Would you pay more attention if you knew that, as of 2014, an estimated 245,000 tons of garbage was floating on the ocean’s surface (National Geographic)? And what if you knew that the waste that ends up in the ocean kills wildlife, plants, and could even kill you?
Plastic is used all over the world. Based on a study conducted in 2012, 288,000,000 tons of plastic is created every year (National Geographic). Much of this plastic is used by consumers, and eventually ends up in landfills. Plastic, however, is different from other trash. It is nonbiodegradable, meaning that it cannot be broken down and decomposed. Plastic is made up of polymers, which are created when molecules are bonded through a chemical process (Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans). Instead of breaking down like other objects, the polymers in plastic are broken apart bythe sun through a process called “photodegradation”, becoming smaller and smaller (Mother Nature Network). However, they never completely disappear. This can become a problem when the tiny pieces of plastic are left to float through the ocean without regulation, where they can absorb harmful substances and be ingested by aquatic life.
Much of the plastic that is created around the world is not disposed of in any way. Instead of either recycling their waste or placing it in a refuse bin, people often leave their trash lying around. This trash makes its way into a watershed, where it begins to cause problems. Every part of the world is in a watershed, which is a place where water flows over land, underground, and into rivers, lakes, and streams. Rain and precipitation runoff carries garbage into larger water sources such as rivers. These watersources are often connected to oceans, acting as the capillaries and arteries to the world’s body to carry water to places away from the oceans. Once filled by plastic waste, the rivers and creeks do not only carry water to and from the oceans, but refuse as well, which, often times, can be dangerous to the environment. Not only is the plastic itself harmful to the environment, but the substances it carries are dangerous as well. Along with transporting garbage into water sources, rain and runoff can wash pesticides and other dangerous chemicals into them. Plastic can act as a sort of absorbent for the chemicals (The 5 Gyres Institute), carrying them for miles until they reach the ocean. This can spread harmful substances all throughout water sources, which could contaminate oncesafe drinking water and possibly even be absorbed into the earth as groundwater, damaging crops or even being consumed by humans when the plants are eaten. The contaminated plastic can also be deadly when consumed by some form of marine life.
Once the garbage makes it to the ocean it wreaks havoc upon the environment. Plastic has been ingested by a recorded 700 different species of marine life (National Geographic), and there could be more that are unknown. In the vast majority of cases, there are appalling results. To name but a few, fish, turtles, and seabirds can ingest the pollutants and be killed or severely injured by the toxins being absorbed into their bodies or the indigestible objects that are attempting to pass through their digestive systems and, in some cases, can puncture their internal organs. Marine life can also become entangled in the plastic. They often drown beneath the water, unable to reach the surface in order to breath.
You may still be wondering how this could have any effect on you; the pollutantsare all in the ocean water, right? Wrong. The pollutants are largely abundant in the ocean, this is true, but it is not hard at all for them to reach land and affect humans. Humans use the ocean as a source of food. While in the ocean, the fish, crabs, and other sea life that are consumed by humans are exposed to the dangerous plastic pollutants. In some cases, the plastic is eaten by the animals, and, since they cannot digest it, remains inside their bodies. When the creature is consumed by a human, whether it is carrying plastic or dangerous chemicals from the pollutants, those hazardous substances can be transferred into the human, posing the same dangers to us as they do to the marine life. The oceans are also connected to many of the freshwater sources humans use as a source of drinking water. With only 1 percent of all Earth’s water being usable by humans, it would be extremely dangerous should the sources of that water be wiped out by contaminants, rendering them useless and far too dangerous for consumption. The pollutants have a possibility of being swept from the ocean into the rivers, creeks, and other bodies of fresh water that connect to it. Should these become polluted by the plastic which has already become such a problem in the oceans, we would lose large amounts of the water we need to survive. In these ways and possibly many others, plastic pollution in the ocean can affect humans in drastic ways, making it a problem that needs to be solved.
So what can be done to help? The United States is already planning to put a ban on the dangerous microbeads that litter our oceans starting in 2018 (The 5 Gyres Institute). But there are still many problems that the world faces due to the plastic, the largest of which being the massive amount of the pollutants that already float through our oceans, putting our ecosystems and all of us in danger. The first step to putting an end to the plastic pollution problem is to raise awareness. Millions of people worldwide still have no idea that the plastic is causing so much trouble. With the help of everyday people who work to end the increasing amount of plastic in our waterways, we can keep the oceans from becoming further polluted. You can help out from home by following this one simple word: recycle. By recycling plastic, you reduce the chances of it winding up in oceans and watersheds. It can be repurposed so that it may be reused, and the cycle will continue every time it is placed in a recycling bin instead of the trash can, the ground, or the ocean.
With the estimated 245,000 tons of plastic floating upon the surface of the ocean, and much more hidden out of sight beneath the waves, this form of pollution has become a severe threat to the marine animals, us humans, and our whole world. However, that is not to say that it is a problem that cannot be solved. There are many simple things that can be done to help prevent the amount of plastic in our oceans from rising. By raising awareness and simply recycling and being more careful with our garbage, we can turn the tide on plastic pollution. So let’s work for it. Together, we can take back our oceans from the pollution that threatens them. Together, we can help end the plastic pollution problem.
I want to make a difference in the world, and helping raise awareness for the pollution in our oceans is one of the ways I can do it. I spent a lot of time researching and looking for facts that would help readers understand the true depth of the problem. I hope to show people the dangers that pollution in the oceans poses to the environment and all of us so that we can work together to help solve the problem.