Plastic debris is pouring into our oceans from every corner of the planet. The world’s rivers carry an ever-increasing amount of empty bottles, wrappings, and a myriad of other discarded household items to the sea 24 hours a day. Sewers and storm drains exhale plastic bags, cigarette lighters, bottle caps, and other plastic litter from our streets and highways like an inexorable monster – a monster that is slowly killing our oceans and polluting the food we eat.
Plastic has filled our seas with terrifying speed. In just a few decades, our addiction to this revolutionary product has transformed our once pristine oceans into dumping grounds for plastic waste in every shape and form. You can go to almost any place in the world and see plastic littering the landscape – waiting for rains and winds to take it to the oceans, all the way to the delicate marine ecosystems. Plastic is everywhere and its presence in nature is growing fast.
When we throw plastic waste into nature, we may think that it just disappears somewhere and never bothers us again. We maybe believe that the story of plastic ends when we get rid of it. But the fact is that this is just the first chapter in its long and disturbing biography. Discarded plastic piles up on our beaches and pollutes the shores of even the remotest of natural paradises. It travels in the ocean currents and forms huge areas of plastic accumulations in the sea. It breaks down to smaller polymers and transforms itself into plastic soup, releasing high amounts of toxic chemicals into the ocean. The story continues and gets even darker when small marine organisms ingest these toxins and pass them on to fish – the fish that end up on our dinner plates. When we consume the fish, the last missing link in the destructive circle of plastic has found its place; the plastic bag we threw into nature has made its way back to bite us.
Plastic also kills marine life directly. Turtles, whales, seabirds, and numerous other animals mistake plastic for food and die a slow death with their stomachs full of indigestible litter. Hundreds of thousands – maybe even millions – of seabirds and marine mammals die each year from eating plastic. These animals are the defenseless and forgotten victims of our careless and inefficient treatment of plastic waste. They suffer and die is silence, far away from our eyes.
The plastic problem is getting worse by the hour. There are billions of new people coming into this world in the next few decades. Most of them will use plastic every day and many of them will throw it into nature once they are done with it. This plastic doesn’t just disappear when the millions of bottles of water are consumed and the lighters and containers are empty. It outlives the people who discard it many times over. If you do the math, you will see that the equation is completely crazy. It is unsustainable at best, a terrifying and merciless Grim Reaper at worst.
Plastic is no doubt a great invention. It keeps our food fresh and lets us carry our drinks in shatter-resistant bottles. It is cheap, durable, and its imperiousness to water makes it useful in a wide range of products. It is a good and useful material and we shouldn’t blame it solely for all the problems it creates. Plastic is not the main demon here. The real problem is our senseless and careless way of treating it when we don’t need it anymore. We throw plastic bags and bottles into nature without thinking about the long-term negative effects our actions have on the planet. We don’t recycle enough plastic, even if there is a growing demand for recycled materials in the world. We simply don’t care enough to fix the problem. Maybe we are getting used to seeing plastic waste everywhere. Maybe we are getting numb to all the trash around us. Whatever the reason is for our inaction, we cannot continue like this. We have to change our attitudes and harmful ways if we want to keep our planet healthy and beautiful for our children and grandchildren. If we don’t, we may soon discover that plastic waste has taken over the beauty and biodiversity of nature. We may find out that the once plentiful bounty of the sea has vanished and all that is left is a slowly dying ocean with ever-widening plastic deserts and growing toxic concentration.
The good news is that we can stop the destructive cycle of plastic and save our oceans if we want to. The problem is completely solvable. We can start by recycling more and simply stop throwing plastic into nature. We can pick up the plastic bag flying toward the ocean when we enjoy a nice day on the beach with our families. We can demand real action from our leaders and refuse to settle for an acknowledgment of the plastic problem with a vague promise to improve things. We can start educating more people about the harmful qualities of plastic and strongly condemn and penalize careless treatment of plastic waste. We can widen our vision and try to see beyond our immediate surroundings and favorite holiday spots. There are numerous ways to be better, but the clock is ticking fast. The time to do something is already long due. The pain and suffering of our oceans and its creatures is very real and it’s happening right now – even if we can’t always witness it first hand.
The increasing flow of plastic from land-based sources is a colossal problem for our oceans and for all of us. It is suffocating our seas and polluting our food. We can pick up and remove plastic from our beaches and oceans all we want, but if we don’t stop the flow of plastic from our cities and rivers, we are fighting against windmills that just keep blowing more and more plastic on our way – windmills that are gaining more power every time a new person is born into this world. The war against plastic is won or lost upstream.