By David Evans
Plastics have been permeating our life for some time now.
In the last 70 years production of plastic has grown from 50 million metric tons to over 300 million metric tons per year.
Plastics are in our grocery stores, our restaurants, our toiletries, toys, furniture, clothes – you name it. Plastic is everywhere, and it impacts the environment and human health in many ways. As a result, ocean pollution is escalating, and we are beginning to see those effects in our water, on land, and in our food supply.
As production and consumption of plastic materials increases, so does the struggle for proper disposal. We have already seen the effects of our mass consumption, but projections suggest this is just the tip of the iceberg.
UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis estimates that 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans each year.
Where is all of this marine debris coming from?
The evidence of the plastic’s impact on marine life is ever mounting:
How will plastic pollution impact humans, as we rely on our oceans as a primary food source?
Just as concerning, however, is how the existing seafood we are consuming now might be impacting our physical wellbeing.
We tend to think that marine debris is unsightly but ultimately not a direct threat to our health. Now we are starting to realize the connection between plastic debris, water quality, and seafood quality.
Plastics are now proven to soak up and absorb pollutants containing chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), Ps oligomer, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and even DDT. These toxins are released both in the ocean and in the marine animals who consume them. They are known to cause liver problems, hormonal disruption, immune system problems, and childhood development issues.
Recent studies have found that more than a quarter of all fish now contain plastic, including those that we consume as seafood.
We already know elements like mercury can build their way up the food chain and it is an existing concern for large fish such as tuna. Plastics and plastic related chemicals are no different.
While no studies have proven or disproven the effects of plastic consumption on humans, it is becoming more and more apparent that humans are consuming plastic through their food. The question merely lies in whether, or how, it is affecting our bodies for the long term.
We need to begin making global changes about how we produce, use, and dispose of plastic materials, and quickly. Though this may seem overwhelming, there are several things that can be done on the individual and local level.
Most of the plastic pollution in oceans stems from what we use on land and in our daily lives. By changing your consumption patterns, you can make a difference in the accumulation of wastes on land and sea.
Single use bags, cups, and bottles are the biggest offenders. Try to find goods without plastic packaging, reduce your plastic bag use, and take your own cup to Starbucks.
Another way to enact change is through education. Education and spreading awareness is the foundation for change. Tell your friends, family, and neighbors about the current state of the oceans and therefore their food and health.
David Evans is the founder of prch, a resource for eco-minded consumers. He is a minimalist, environmentalist, and conscious consumer with a background in environmental studies, conservation, and tech. Learn to improve your environmental and social impact @theprch.
Photo: 1) miwa.eu