The seventh continent: plastics graveyard
Somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean is a mountain of plastic the size of Europe. And sadly, if we don’t clean up our act, there will be more plastic than fish swimming in the ocean by 2050.
In 1907 the invention of a new material called plastic seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel for civilisation. Through this revolutionary discovery, human manufacturing would no longer be confined by the limitations of natural, raw materials – or so they thought.
Skip less than one hundred years down the line, and we are well into seeing the destructive effects of this once promising design.
Every single piece of plastic created since 1907 is still on Earth. Unfortunately for us as a consumer driven world, there is no such thing as throwing it away – plastic has no-where to go but in our landfills or in our oceans.
In 2012 researches found large amounts of plastic in a beached sperm-whales stomach.
Among their findings was a hose pipe, 30 square meters of plastic tarpaulin and two plastic pots.
So how does all this end up in the sea?
On average one person will use and dispose of over 100kgs of plastic per-year, and the majority of this plastic ends up in landfill or in the sea. In fact, it is estimated that around 80% of the rubbish in the ocean has come directly from land to begin with – not discarded off ships.
More than 100 million tonnes of plastic floats around the ocean at any one time – forming a plastic continent of our waste in the Pacific Ocean.
The plastic we use and throw away does not rot and will last up to 500 years before breaking down into microscopic parts which absorb harmful toxins. Many animals in the ocean mistake this micro plastic for plankton, ingesting our carelessly thrown away waste before we in-turn consume them and the plastic inside.
And if they don’t end up on our plates, they die a slow and painful death either from starvation with bellies full of plastic or because their intestines rupture. This is not limited to fish either, it includes turtles, dolphins, birds and many more sea creatures.
But there are four main ways that this mountainous amount of rubbish ends up floating in the ocean:
1. Plastic lost in transportation:
The plastic waste that finds its way to a rubbish bin can escape on route to landfills, and even blow away once dumped – eventually ending up in rivers and oceans.
The rubbish that doesn’t even make it to a bin puts our oceans most at risk. These littered items go on a journey by wind and rain, transported through drainage networks or rivers, before being washed out to sea.
3. Plastics down the drain
Many do not realise this, but products found in all households contain microplastics.
From personal care items such as shower gels, to toothpastes and face scrubs – many of these products are full of micro plastics too small to be filtered out by treatment plants.
4. Plastics down the toilet
Another way that plastic from our homes ends up in the sea is by people flushing items down the toilet. Plastics such as facewipes, sanitary products and cotton buds, are a just a few among the many items flushed into our drainage systems.
The bottom line is, the problem of a seventh continent of plastic in the pacific ocean is purely because of us – no other species can be blamed for the current situation we find ourselves in. And therefore no one else can fix this problem, but us.
Whether we purposefully litter or not – there’s a high chance the rubbish will end up in the ocean anyway. But that is no reason to give up, become disheartened and careless.
There are a few ways you can make a difference everyday:
1. Reduce, reduce, reduce plastic use!
This might sound like a broken record at this point, but it’s the most effective action you can take every day. Buy a reusable water bottle, store food in non-disposable containers, use tote bags instead of plastic, and finally recycle correctly. The rules around recycling may seem daunting, but a quick Google can set the record straight on what is actually recyclable and what needs to be taken to specific soft plastic recycling hubs.
2. Help to care for beaches
Whether you are swimming, surfing or having a BBQ with friends - clean up after
yourself. You can even take it one step further by encouraging others to clean up too and by participating in local clean-up projects.
3. Purchase products that do not hurt the environment
Try purchasing organic, sustainably sourced products – anything that proves it is
environmentally friendly. These days, environmentally-friendly alternatives are just as effective and aren’t harmful to you or the planet.
4. Support organisations protecting the oceans
This one is pretty self-explanatory – but there are many fantastic organisations working to protect our oceans from plastic waste. And donating money isn’t the only way you can help - giving your time to volunteering or even helping get the word out about the amazing work these organisations do is incredibly helpful!
Small changes every day can have a big impact on the state we leave this planet in. Put simply, marine life cannot stomach any more of our plastic waste.
Kelly Marie Smith