Environmentalists identify the modern age as the Anthropocene. They believe Earth is shifting into the sixth extinction, signifying humanity’s contribution to biodiversity loss. This is because the planet is being harmed by atmospheric and surface-level pollution.
Researchers are focusing on marine waste as an emission-reduction solution. A significant quantity of trash and recycling ends up in the ocean, impacting aquatic ecosystems. Four major pollution-causing items are influencing marine degradation.
Global Plastic Pollution
The four items causing aquatic degradation are forms of plastic. Manufacturers produce nearly 300 million tons of plastic annually, creating disposal challenges. About 14 million tons of the material pollute the ocean each year, accounting for 80% of marine trash.
Sunlight and saltwater degrade plastic into minuscule beads. Aquatic species ingest these microplastics, harming health and causing biodiversity limitations. The most ecologically degrading materials are plastic bags, bottles, food containers and wrappers.
- Plastic Bags
Global consumers use plastic bags, even in the most sustainable countries. The International Coastal Cleanup organization collected 1.9 million grocery bags from the ocean in 2018. Researchers also found the plastic products in 34% of deceased leatherback sea turtles, signifying a significant ecosystem challenge.
The bags degrade into microplastics and release chemicals into the ocean. One particular chemical limits the development of Prochlorococcus, which is the microorganism responsible for one-tenth of global oxygen production.
- Plastic Bottles
Bottles are forms of single-use plastic that pile up as municipal solid waste. Manufacturers produce nearly 100.7 billion plastic bottles annually in America alone. The production process creates its own forms of pollution.
The material derives from fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gas emissions during combustion. This pollution accumulates in the atmosphere and limits Earth’s ability to produce and regulate life-sufficient surface temperatures. Over time, greenhouse gases raise the global temperature.
Plastic bottle manufacturing also exploits freshwater sources. It takes nearly six times the amount of water inside a bottle to produce it. At the end of their life cycles, the materials can end up in the ocean and contribute to marine pollution.
- Plastic Food Containers and Cutlery
The third most common form of ocean pollution comes from plastic food containers and cutlery. If containers have food residue when they reach a recycling facility, workers throw them away. Many manufacturers also produce the items with mixed materials, reducing their recyclability.
When containers and cutlery reach a landfill, they may blow away or degrade into tiny particles, reaching the ocean through stormwater runoff. Once the items reach the sea, they become aquatic trash pollution.
- Plastic Wrappers
The final form of plastic trash pollution is wrappers. They are the most common items found on beaches and in waterways. In 2019, workers collected and removed 4.8 million food wrappers from coastal regions during a beach cleanup.
Some individuals believe the items’ materials derive from paper, making them biodegradable. However, wrappers contain mixed materials, lamination and printing, causing aquatic degradation.
Reducing Plastic Trash Pollution
Individuals may minimize plastic pollution by identifying the fundamental causes in their areas. Community members or businesses illegally dumping their waste into nearby water sources can be reported to local authorities. In addition, people transitioning away from single-use plastic consumption can invest in reusable containers, bottles and other materials to limit aquatic waste.
You may also opt for glass containers over plastic versions, increasing the recyclability of items and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Over time, minimal lifestyle changes can significantly impact global waste reduction.
Getting the Community Involved
There is strength in numbers, so educating community members about plastic waste reduction techniques can effectively increase marine conservation. Additionally, individuals may host independent beach cleanup projects in their towns to eliminate pollution firsthand. You can also find a volunteer to hold a seminar about the effects of plastic pollution in your community.
Taking steps like these are small ways to help the oceans, but every little bit adds up to make a big impact.