What is Ocean Plastic Pollution?
The ocean is home to all kinds of creatures. Striped and spotted fish, chirping dolphins, barking sea lions, and those terrifying great whites. But it’s also home to a ton of plastic trash, and that’s a problem for all the animals that live there.
Our plastic waste is choking the oceans!
According to the National Ocean Service, the vast majority of ocean pollution, 80% from the land. It’s often caused by something called nonpoint source pollution, which occurs when the rain or melting snow picks up garbage on the ground, carrying the runoff into waterways. At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year.
These plastics that easily found its way into the oceans are called as Ocean Bound Plastic (OBP). It is very important that we capture these OBP materials before it hits the oceans. It will be easier and cheaper to be recycled as the salt water and other contamination haven't spoiled the materials.
Why is it important ?
Plastic pollution is the most widespread problem affecting the marine environment. It also threatens ocean health, food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.
Impacts on marine environment The most visible and disturbing impacts of marine plastics are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fishes and turtles, mistake plastic waste for prey, and most die of starvation as their stomachs are filled with plastic debris. They also suffer from lacerations, infections, reduced ability to swim, and internal injuries. Floating plastics also contribute to the spread of invasive marine organisms and bacteria, which disrupt ecosystems.
Impacts on food and health Invisible plastic has been identified in tap water, beer, salt and are present in all samples collected in the world’s oceans, including the Arctic. Several chemicals used in the production of plastic materials are known to be carcinogenic and to interfere with the body’s endocrine system, causing developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders in both humans and wildlife.
Toxic contaminants also accumulate on the surface of plastic materials as a result of prolonged exposure to seawater. When marine organisms ingest plastic debris, these contaminants enter their digestive systems, and overtime accumulate in the food web. The transfer of contaminants between marine species and humans through consumption of seafood has been identified as a health hazard, but has not yet been adequately researched.
Plastic debris is polluting the human food chain. In a 2008 Pacific Gyre voyage, Algalita researchers began finding that fish are ingesting plastic fragments and debris. Of the 672 fish caught during that voyage, 35% had ingested plastic pieces.
Impacts on climate change Plastic, which is a petroleum product, also contributes to global warming. If plastic waste is incinerated, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thereby increasing carbon emissions.
Impacts on tourism Plastic waste damages the aesthetic value of tourist destinations, leading to decreased tourism-related incomes and major economic costs related to the cleaning and maintenance of the sites.
What can be done?
Global concern and public awareness regarding the impact of plastic on the marine environment are currently increasing. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) considers plastic marine debris and its ability to transport harmful substances as one of the main emerging issues affecting the environment. At the 2015 G7 summit in Bavaria, Germany, the risks of microplastics were acknowledged in the Leaders’ Declaration.
Legal efforts have been made at the international and national levels to address marine pollution. The most important are the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes and Other Matter (or the London Convention), the 1996 Protocol to the London Convention (the London Protocol), and the 1978 Protocol to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). However, compliance with these laws is still poor, partly due to limited financial resources to enforce them. Existing international legally binding instruments should be further explored to address plastic pollution.
Recycling and reuse of plastic materials are the most effective actions available to reduce the environmental impacts of open landfills and open-air burning that are often practiced to manage domestic waste. Sufficient litter and recycling bins can be placed in cities, and on beaches in coastal areas to accelerate the prevention and reduction of plastic pollution. Governments, research institutions and industries also need to work collaboratively redesigning products, and rethink their usage and disposal, in order to reduce microplastics waste from pellets, synthetic textiles and tyres. This will require solutions which go beyond waste management, to consider the whole lifecycle of plastic products, from product design to infrastructure and household use.
To effectively address the issue of marine plastics, research and innovation should be supported. Knowledge of the full extent of plastic pollution and its impacts would provide policy-makers, manufacturers and consumers with scientific evidence needed to spearhead appropriate technological, behavioural and policy solutions.
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