How so much plastic ends up in the ocean

a view of the ocean
I snapped this picture during a boat trip, in Seychelles.

There are five great garbage patches which have been growing due to approximately 8 million tons of plastic being dumped in the ocean every single year. In this article I will be talking about how so much plastic ends up in our oceans, and some of the ways in which we can help.

Everyone, or at least the majority of people, has heard of the consequences that plastic pollution has on our enviroment, and directly on our health. Animals dying because of too much plastic clogging their organs, sea birds suffocating, turtles and whales ingesting plastic bags have made breaking news in the past years. Another concern to not underestimate is that once plastics find their way into the ocean, they inevitably enter our food chain.

But how does this happen? How does humanity contribute to this catastrophe? While many people are aware of the enormous damage that plastic pollution has on our planet, not everyone is very clear on how it happened, and how it continues to happen. Firstly, a large contributing factor is beach/shoreline leisure activities such as parties, concerts, picnics and whatnot; during these occasions lots of plasticware, balloons and food packaging is left on the beach and gets washed up by the waves.

Secondly, it is a common accident for fishing nets and fishing lines to break at open sea, these are very hard to find and collect once lost. They are very often found in sea mammals’ intestines, or trapping other animals such as fish and turtles. Some boat platforms and ships even freely discharge waste into the sea.

Thirdly, a more subtle way of plastic entering the sea is through the sewage system; for instance, washing clothes made up of synthetic material and using everyday cosmetics that contain microbeads and glitter cause extremely small particles and fibers to be discharged into the sewage. These molecules are microscopic and hence cannot be detected by standard sewage plants and therefore end up in bodies of water. 

However, this is not at all a problem that can’t be solved: on the contrary there are plenty of ways that individuals can reduce their plastic footprint. One of the most common ways is to bring your own shopping bags, reusable cloth produce bags, rethinking your food storage method, investing in a durable and reusable water bottle to carry with you instead of buying plastic water bottles everyday. Other actions that are being taken also include bringing your own thermos and metal straws to coffee shops (some even offer a discount if you do so!), using refillable metal lighters, choosing cardboard instead of plastic, as it is easier to recycle.

More dedicated people even try to swap to more eco-friendly toothbrushes and toothpaste, and a lot of women have decided to opt for menstrual cups instead of other disposable products. On the same note, it would be amazing for new parents to consider using cloth diapers for their babies more often. Finally, the most popular tips are the most important: do not litter. Where trash cans and bins are available there is no reason for people not to use them.

These are just some of the things that individuals can do to help reduce the immense amount of plastic waste. On the other side, the cooperation of governments and large companies is vital, as we can only do so much without their help. In many countries there are laws and regulations being assessed; for example in a number of countries single-use plastics and styrofoam have either been limited or completely banned. This will lead to the massive reduction of plastic waste being produced in the long term. Moreover, improvement in better, more efficient and sustainable recycling and waste collection infrastructure would drastically change the statistics on plastic related pollution.

I also believe that schools should have at least one hour per week of compulsory environmental education, so that the future generations can make wise choices in their day to day life and can go for a more sustainable lifestyle.

To conclude, I am well aware that these changes cannot take place overnight, but our time is running out. Everyday we can see the Earth giving us warning signs and we need to start paying attention. This is why I urge everyone reading this to step forward and make changes in your lives; I know that many of us cannot do everything I have mentioned above, but please do what you can. Choose wisely. The future is in our hands.