The Problem with Plastic
In the increasingly disposable world, it is estimated that over 50% of the toxic emitting plastics are created with the intention of being disposable, meaning more are produced and less reused. Since the 1950s the approximate production of plastic annually has increased from 1.5 million tonnes to 299 million in 2013. This plastic is estimated to take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade, and even longer in marine environments, due to low oxygen levels and decreased UV exposure. When plastic items such as plastic bags or bottles are deposited into the ocean, they break down into smaller fragments when exposed to UV radiation from the sun and many particles converge to a large area in the Pacific the size of France, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Ocean plasticity problems
The Great Pacific Garbage patch harbours many different problems within the ocean, particularly regarding the ecosystem. Ingestion and entanglement of these plastic pieces has become an issue for many fish and birds and over 600 different marine life species and 1 million seabirds die every year as a result.
Bio magnification is another huge issue, as it can negatively affect human health. Broken down plastic particles, once ingested by marine life, will be transported up the food chain (each step will increase the concentration) as predators eat prey containing the particles. This means that humans (if fish is a key dietary component), at the top of the food chain, will contain a higher concentration of the toxic plastic than other marine life, within their body.
Bioplastics are a very encouraging development, meaning some plastics will no longer take thousands of years to degrade, and in some cases can even be ingested by organisms with no harm whatsoever.
Another solution is a plastic bottle return scheme. This is the topic of one of our new campaigns which aims to lobby the government tom implement such a scheme. This will work by giving money back to people when they recycle their plastic bottles.
It is also important to think of ways to reduce the use of plastic altogether. A hot topic at the moment is plastic free shops and the first UK shop was opened in London this year.
By Alice Grennan