More plastic in the ocean than fish

More than half of the world’s plastic ends up in the ecosystem, as exemplified by this snapshot from Wendy Park in Cleveland. Photo by Patrick McGannon

Yes, you read that headline correctly. By the year 2050, it is estimated that there will be more waste plastic (by weight) in the ocean than fish. Worldwide, every minute of every day, one refuse truck’s worth of waste plastic is dumped into the sea. This is arguably the No. 1 environmental catastrophe facing our world today for many reasons.

The oceans are made up of five gyres. A gyre is network of currents that creates slow, rotating whirlpools. Plastics that end up in the ocean become caught in the gyres, creating what are known as “garbage patches.” You may have heard of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which is estimated to be approximately twice the size of the continental U.S. However, not all garbage patches are visible to the eye. Water and sunlight break down plastic in the ocean into tiny particles. Make no mistake – the plastic never goes away, it just gets smaller and smaller.

Plastic in the ocean is a threat to sea life, as fish, turtles, and other marine life mistake plastic for food. Plastic particles also absorb toxins in the water like a sponge. One plastic particle in the ocean can be more than one million times more toxic than the water around it. When these particles are eaten by fish, the toxins make their way into the human food chain.

Currently, plastic production accounts for about 5 percent of all oil production. Within 35 years, it is estimated that new plastic production will consume 20 percent of all oil production worldwide. Currently, only about 5 percent of plastic is recycled effectively: about 40 percent goes into landfills, and the rest is found in the ecosystem, mainly our waterways such as oceans and lakes (yes, Lake Erie has lots of plastic in it). Because of the world’s demand for more and more single-use plastics, it is estimated that if we continue “as is,” plastic production is expected to double in the next 20 years and quadruple by 2050.

Whew, that’s a lot of bad news! But, there is good news! You can do something and it’s easy! Start to phase out single-use plastics in your life. As I’ve said before in this column, bring your own travel coffee cup to fill at coffee shops, and bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store. Choose cans of soda instead of plastic bottles. Refuse plastic straws every chance you get. Don’t buy water. Bring your own, refillable water bottle with you so you don’t end up purchasing one. (This also saves you money!)

To be even more proactive, look around your home at your plastic use. Can you switch out your plastic soap dispensers for bars of soap? Instead of using plastic bags and baggies to store food, try reusable containers. Glass jars work well for this, so start saving them when you finish a jar of jam or something else. When you see plastic on the street, pick it up! If you don’t, it will most likely make its way into Lake Erie. Think about everything disposable you are using, and I bet it’s made of plastic. Your actions, by refusing these items and finding alternatives, will make a difference.

For more information, either Google “plastic pollution” or visit these websites: 5gyres.org, plasticpollutioncoalition.org, plasticfreejuly.org.

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Volume 8, Issue 12, Posted 9:55 AM, 06.21.2016