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Living Sustainably Part 3: The Plastics Purge

July 20, 2018

Sustainable living.  Plastic pollution.

We are on a personal quest to understand the importance of ridding plastic from our everyday life, and wholeheartedly contributing towards conserving our global environment.  Delving deeper into the impacts of plastic pollution and the dire consequences has been overwhelming and shocking.  Some of the video footage we have viewed is hugely disturbing and an alarm bell in respect of the urgent call to action required by each and every one of us.  The below video of a turtle with a straw in its nostril is painfully graphic, and it is this video imagery that can be attributed to our tipping point in our plight to purge all plastic.



Why is it vital to end this excessive plastics party?  Despite an increasing awareness of the dire effects of plastic pollution, globally, we are still massively increasing our use of plastics.  Every single piece of plastic that was ever made is still in existence today.  A SCARY thought given the devastating consequences to our natural environments and our own health.  This unsustainable consumption of plastic has resulted in five giant, rotating islands of plastic which are known to exist in the North and South Pacific; the Indian Ocean and the North and South Atlantic.   A sixth island of floating plastic waste has now begun and it collects debris from Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and the Caribbean Islands.  Where and when will it end?
 

Let us now consider mass tourism.  Bali is one of the most sought after travel destinations for surfers in the world, however today Bali is making headlines for something entirely different.  Government officials in Indonesia recently declared a "garbage emergency" for the 100 tons of garbage that wash up daily on its beaches.  Again a SCARY thought, and if we do not act collectively and decisively this could quickly become a global catastrophe affecting a vast number of surf sanctuaries worldwide.

David Horner was videotaping while diving off the island of Nusa Penida, in Bali.  Intending to film manta rays, David Horner was instead engulfed by a sea of floating plastic waste. 
 
Everything related to plastic production is detrimental to our environment, including the impact of extracting the fossil fuels to manufacture plastic, the health effects of plastic toxins released into the environment when it is burned, and of course the devastating impact of plastic waste on all marine life.
 
Plastic is so abundant that even the birds now use it to build their nests and feed their young.
 

Sustainable living.  Plastic pollution.

An iconic image by Chris Jordan shows the inevitable result of sea birds   ingesting plastic debris, as food and in many cases feeding it to their chicks.

 

For sea birds and larger marine creatures like turtles, dolphins and seals, the danger comes from being entangled in plastic bags and other debris, or mistaking plastic for food.  Turtles mistakenly identify plastic bags as jellyfish.  Jellyfish are a part of a turtle’s diet.  The plastic bags, however, cause internal blockages and usually result in death if consumed.  Larger pieces of plastic can also damage the digestive systems of sea birds and whales, and can be fatal.
 
Over very long periods of time plastic waste does slowly degrade and break down into tiny micro-fragments.  These micro-fragments are now an additional cause for concern. A survey by Plymouth University found that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. This is known to result in malnutrition or starvation for the fish, and lead to plastic ingestion in humans too. The effect on humans eating fish containing plastic is still largely unknown.  But in 2016 the European Food Safety Authority warned of an increased risk to human health and food safety "given the potential for micro-plastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish". 
 
Due to our excessive and increasing use of plastic we need to absolutely reduce, reuse and ultimately REFUSE the use of plastic.  It was recently estimated by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation that by 2050 there very well may be more plastic in our oceans than fish(by weight).  When we consider how long it takes for plastic to break down, and the high levels of plastic pollution found even in areas not inhabited by humans (like the ice and water of the Antarctic), we can start to understand how big of a problem plastic pollution can be.

 

A frozen island composed completely of plastic debris floating in the cold, southern Pacific, is now home to a colony of Gentoo penguins. 
 
It’s entirely up to us.  Stay informed. Don't get complacent.  Don’t get discouraged. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed but we need everyone to be a part of this conversation. We need everyone to be diving deeper, learning more, asking the hard questions and educating others. The more we collectively know, the more power we have to effect critical change.
 
We can begin with small changes.  We need to rethink our individual consumption patterns by simply reducing the amount of plastic products we are buying and using. This will reduce our own exposure to plastic pollution and collectively reduce our planet’s plastic load.
 
Some more great (and easy) ways to reduce plastic exposure:

 

  • Stop using plastic straws.
  • Start using a glass or stainless steel water bottle.
  • Switch to reusable grocery bags.
  • Stop buying processed foods that are packaged in plastics. This is a huge step for your health on its own, but it will also reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce each year. Shop at farmers markets and use reusable bags. If it is in a plastic bag or a box, just don’t buy it.
  • Replace plastic bags and plastic food storage containers with safer reusable options.
  • Buy wooden toys for children instead of plastic. (They last longer too!)
  • Use cloth nappies instead of disposable. 
  • Give up chewing gum.  It is made from synthetic rubber, which is plastic!
  • Ditch the disposable razor.
  • Recycle whatever you can.




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