The Plastic Problem: There is no 'Away'

The Plastic Problem

Nothing is forever, but plastic comes pretty damn close.

Plastic itself is no bad thing. It’s durable, it’s resilient, it’s fairly easy to manufacture and it last a pretty long time. Every piece of plastic ever created is still on Earth today.

Let that sink in a second.

Every piece of plastic ever created is still on Earth today. 

Or rather, in our oceans. 

This also wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except somewhere in between discovering plastic in the last century and the booming consumerism of the present day a horrible misunderstanding has occurred. Somewhere along the line the durability resilience and sheer ‘forever-ness’ of plastic has been overshadowed by its low cost, ease of manufacture and versatility of uses. We’re using a wonder product that lasts pretty much forever on disposable, ‘one time’ only items. The result is a global pollution crisis from which there is no escape because plastic simply doesn’t go away. There is no away.

This mismatch of material science and product design puts us in the situation of having vast amounts of waste that no longer has any use or value.
— Emily Penn

So what?

A huge amount of the waste from these single use plastics make their way into the worlds ocean. There aren’t any borders at sea and thanks to the amazing natural movements of the blue parts of our planet, these packets and bags and fragments of plastic cover more miles than even the most wanderlust-stricken travellers.

Plastic from one end of the Earth is washing up in bays and coves on the other. Areas of ocean where the closest humans are on the international space station are spotted with plastic particles and debris. Legends of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch frequently make their way to our social feeds.

These are pretty terrifying thoughts when you actually stop to think about them. Which is where most of us start to go wrong. We simply don’t think. And who can blame us with statistics such as 1 in 3 marine mammal species have been found entangles in plastic debris or images of baby birds starving to death with tummies bulging with brightly coloured plastic pellets greet us when we start to delve a little deeper into the plastics problem.

It’s harrowing stuff and most of us would rather look away. Except, if you remember, there is no away.

The human impact

Most of us find it difficult to really, truly give a damn if it doesn’t affect us directly. That’s just human nature and whilst it’s something we should always be trying to change, it’s also something we have to accept about the Homo Sapien species. So it’s worth knowing that it isn’t just our oceans we’re poisoning with our plastic pollution, we’re poisoning ourselves too.

Plastic litters the beaches of the world, causing health and sustainability problems for the communities that live along them. Plastic doesn’t degrade but rather erodes into tinier and tinier particles leading to even the clearest looking water festering with microscopic particles. These particles then make their way into our food chain.

It doesn’t break down. It breaks up.

Fish are frequently found with plastic pollution in their systems and 90% of seabirds have been found with plastic in their digestive tract. The steady erosion of plastic in the ocean is mimicked when in an organism and over time chemicals are leached into the soft muscles and flesh of a creature. You know, the bits we like to eat.

The effect of these chemicals is not yet fully understood but we know it can’t be good. Studies suggest that the chemicals leached by plastic over time are linked to cancers, infertility, immune, metabolic, cognitive and behavioural disorders [source].  Plastic is poisonous and we’re slowly, but ever so definitely, poisoning the very heart of our planet and our own bodies as we do so.

The planet is 70% water. Our bodies are 70% water. We are made of the same stuff. We are linked to the ocean on a cellular level. If we poison the ocean... can you see the problem we’re facing here?

The solution

The problem is pretty big and therefore it’s tempting to just put our heads back in the (plastic peppered) sand and hope it all goes away. We can’t. We simply can’t. There is no away.

 Sadly living a plastic free existence is not an option available to most of us, but reducing our consumption and increasing our awareness is. Simple swaps such as removing single use plastics from our daily lives, switching to metal or glass water bottles instead of buying bottled water and refusing straws are all excellent places to start today. Right now.

There are also excellent resources for raising awareness and reducing your plastic impact available. Check out The Plastic Project, Kids Against Plastic, The Marine Conservation’s Plastic Challenge and Surfers Against Sewage for ideas of how to help and hope in the face of a global crisis.

As Seafox develops, we’ll be sharing more ways to help you protect the oceans that inspire us. ‘If you have any tips, articles or other sources of inspiration to share, please let us know here.

Small changes made by individuals can make a difference to the masses but we must all be committed.


Image source: The Plastic Project

Nomadic writer and designer