Plastic is Choking Our Oceans — But You Can Help

by | Aug 2, 2021

In honor of Respect for Fish Day (August 1), I watched two thought-provoking yet disturbing Netflix documentaries — Seaspiracy and A Plastic Ocean. It’s common knowledge that plastic pollution is invading our oceans, but I didn’t comprehend the extent of the devastation. It’s downright scary.

The ocean is my happy place. My best memories include scuba diving with manatees, wading with stingrays in Grand Cayman, and snorkeling with dolphins and mesmerizing tropical fish. 

But our oceans and marine life are in serious jeopardy. Walking along the beach, you see a hint of the destruction that’s happening right now — plastic trash washing up on the shore, even at the most swanky tropical resorts.

Credit: Photo by Nariman Mesharrafa on Unsplash

Plastic Pollution Facts

The sad fact according to Sea Save is that if the rate of plastic pollution continues, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. To understand the rate at which plastic waste is threatening our oceans, here are some statistics reported by Plastic Oceans International:

  • 10 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year that equals more than a garbage truck load every minute! 
  • Plastic pollution kills 1 millon marine animals annually.
  • Another not-so-fun fact:  humans eat over 40 pounds of plastic during their lifetimes. 

Credit: Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

How Plastic Impacts Our Future

Plastic waste threatens our ocean ecosystem and is on a collision course with our planet’s future. You can’t help worrying about how plastic will impact our children, grandchildren, and generations to come. 

Plastic doesn’t break down. It breaks up when sun and heat turn it into smaller fragments, or microplastics. Plankton and small fish are at the bottom of the food chain and mistake microplastic for food. Bigger fish then eat the smaller fish, and you can imagine where those contaminated fish might end up: on many dinner plates. 

The potential impact on human health is staggering. Toxic substances like phthalates in plastic disrupt our endocrine systems, which can cause reproductive issues and possibly cancer. 

Credit: Photo by Sören Funk on Unsplash

Devastating Effects of Plastic on Oceans and Marine Life

Researching this blog post, I saw horrific images of dead fish and seabirds whose carcasses were cut open to reveal bellies full of plastic fragments. I watched video clips of dolphins mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish and spinning out of control, sea lions with plastic netting cutting deep into their necks, rescuers extracting plastic straws lodged in sea turtles’ noses, and beached whales taking their last breaths, malnourished because their stomachs were full of plastic. 

For a close-up look, One Green Planet posted a collection of videos that illustrate the tragedy happening to sea animals. If you follow the link, please note that the images are graphic and disturbing.

What makes all of this even worse is that I stumbled on articles about how fish are sentient beings. One resource comes from the Compassion in World Farming’s Rethink Fish campaign, which states “There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates that fish have feelings, perform complex behaviors and are intelligent. They are also capable of experiencing pain and suffering.”

Credit: Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash

The Water Bottle Scourge

Plastic water bottles rank as one of the biggest offenders in our oceans. Did you know that the process of producing bottled water requires around six times as much water per bottle as the water the bottle itself contains?!?

It’s estimated that Americans buy 29 billion water bottles a year and out of every six, only one is recycled. That’s alarming news considering water bottles do not biodegrade and it takes up to 1,000 years for each bottle to decompose.

Credit: Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

What We Can Do To Help Save Our Oceans

What can we do now to save our oceans to protect marine life and ultimately, ourselves?

Ever since I watched those Netflix documentaries, I’m acutely aware of all of the plastic I use during the course of a day. The plastic spoon with my brown bag lunch… the plastic wrap on the leftovers… the plastic “clam” that holds my blueberries… the plastic bag of rice… the plastic container for my hummus. It seems impossible to avoid!!

Here’s how you can help:

  • Steer clear of buying products packaged in plastic whenever possible.
  • Invest in a reusable water bottle. The Spruce Eats researches, tests and recommends products to consider.
  • When shopping, request a paper bag instead of plastic, or better yet, bring your own. Order a high-quality, reusable shopping bag by emailing HAP at info@humaneactionpittsburgh.org.
  • Just say “no” when you’re offered a straw with your drink.
  • Choose environmentally-friendly restaurants that recycle, provide compostable takeout container options, and don’t offer single use plastic for cutlery, straws, etc. HAP is creating a resource supporting the shift to compostables bookmark ReimagineTakeout.com and stay tuned for more this fall!
  • Spread the word and encourage your family and friends to follow suit and make choices that protect the environment. 
  • Sign the pledge to say “No plastic please!” and encourage your organization to become a No Plastic Please Pledge Partner.
  • Like and share HAP’s “No Plastic Please” campaign on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

One of the most effective things we can do is take responsibility for our trash. You might think, “I recycle so I’m helping the environment.” Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the United States recycles just 9 percent of the country’s plastic trash. The rest ends up in landfills and travels through our waterways to slowly destroy our oceans.

Credit: Photo by OCG Saving The Ocean on Unsplash

When You Know Better, You Do Better

The first step to making a difference for our oceans and fish is recognizing the plastic pollution problem and doing your part to save the planet. Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” 

Our time is now.

 

 

AUTHORS

Aimee Douglass is the Director of Compassionate Living. She has been a volunteer with HAP since 2018. She is an active participant in the Compassionate Living campaign and in 2019 tabled at her first event for HAP. Aimee works in the healthcare industry and has a bachelors degree in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and a masters degree in Communications with a health care focus from Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in Penn Hills with her husband and their three dogs.

Hannah Lewis is the Assistant Blogger and grant writer at HAP. She has been working with HAP since July of 2020. By day, she works as a literacy educator. She is an avid hiker, but also loves to spend time indoors curled up with a book and her long-haired cat, Frejya.