The Consequences of a ‘Disposable’ Plastic Lifestyle

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed one day and stumbled upon a photo that will forever be engraved in my brain. It was a photo of a whale washed up on a beach with its mouth open and overflowing with various plastic containers and scraps. At first, I couldn’t believe it. Then, I noticed it looked off, so I did some research. It turned out to be a piece of art, created by Greenpeace Philippines as a way to address one of the world’s most serious issues: plastic pollution. More specifically, how it is affecting the environment, our oceans and the living creatures that inhabit it.

Understanding the Problem:

It wasn’t until I watched a documentary on plastic pollution, A Plastic Ocean on Netflix last summer when I became hyperaware of this problem. The documentary was released in 2016 and it highlights the consequences of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. An international team of adventurers, journalists, researchers and environmentalists go around the world to investigate this human-generated “disposable lifestyle.” The film proved to me how much we as a society, sometimes forget that our actions, no matter how small, has dire consequences.

According to the Plastic Oceans Foundation, nearly 300 million tons of plastic is being produced every year and about 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans every year. Estimates show that around 50 percent of plastic is used just once and thrown away.

A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes and one million bags are used every minute. The process of producing one single bottled water uses six times as much water per bottle than there is in the container.

Real-Life Consequences:

Earlier this month, CNN reported on a sperm whale that washed up on a beach in southern Spain (pictured above).

The whale was found on February 27th and had 64 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach. Scientists found mostly plastic, ropes, pieces of net and other debris lodged inside the whale. Due to the massive amount of waste it swallowed, the abnormally thin whale died from an abdominal infection. It ultimately could not digest the waste, which caused its digestive system to rupture.

The discovery prompted authorities in Murcia, Spain to launch a campaign to clean up its beaches.

"The presence of plastic in the ocean and oceans is one of the greatest threats to the conservation of wildlife throughout the world, as many animals are trapped in the trash or ingest large quantities of plastics that end up causing their death," Murcia's general director of environment, Consuelo Rosauro said in a statement.

Plastic has not only reached our ocean’s, but into the marine wildlife food chain—exposing toxic chemicals that can also end up in the food that we eat.

How You Can Help:

This “disposable lifestyle” is harmful and unnecessary. However, there are ways to make changes to lessen and help reduce the rate of plastic pollution.

Here are just a few tips on how to use less plastic, according to the Green Education Foundation:

  1. Stop using plastic straws, especially in restaurants. Try purchasing a reusable stainless steel or glass straw.
  2. Ditch plastic bags while shopping and switch to reusable bags. If you’re using them to grocery shop, make sure to wash them often!
  3. Avoid plasticware at home and be sure to request restaurants don’t pack them in your take-out box.
  4. Use a reusable bottle or mug for beverages, even when ordering from a to-go shop. (Some places even give you a discount for using reusable bottles and mugs!)
  5.  Purchase foods like cereal, pasta and rice from bulk bins and fill them into a reusable container/bag. You save money and unnecessary packaging.
  6. Buy boxes instead of bottles. For example, boxed detergent is more easily recycled.
  7. Bring reusable containers for storing leftovers or for shopping in bulk.

For a full list of their tips, check them out here: http://www.greeneducationfoundation.org/nationalgreenweeksub/waste-reduction-tips/tips-to-use-less-plastic.html

Also, EDUCATE! Educate yourself and everyone you know on the importance of this issue as well as what to do to help. On Saturday, June 9, 2018, there will be a March for the Ocean in Washington D.C. The march is dedicated to saying “no” to ocean pollution and “yes” to preserving and protecting a healthy ocean. For more information or if you’re interested in joining, register here: https://marchfortheocean.org/