The effect of single use plastics on our oceans. - Waves Project

The effect of single use plastics on our oceans.

Micro-plastics: A volunteer shifts micro-plastics out of sand at Windward Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi 

“Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics”. That’s the advice a young, aimless Dustin Hoffman received in the 1967 film, The Graduate. Turns out, that was great advice. When plastic was created in the 1950s, families celebrated the dawn of a new, convenient, disposable lifestyle. In 2016, nearly 168 million metric tons of single-use plastic was produced.Global plastic production is projected to more than triple by 2050. The plastics industry is still thriving today, so what’s the problem? As we learn more about it, plastic’s harmful impact becomes more apparent.

A Plastic Planet

Researchers have found plastic across the globe from the Arctic snow to air we breathe to the Sahara Desert. Plastic does not naturally break down in nature. Instead, plastic breaks down into small pieces called micro-plastics. Our clothes shed plastic microfibers are so small you can only view them through a microscope. 

Plastic Production and Climate Change

As we produce plastic, we release greenhouse gases into the environment. One fifth of all fossil fuel consumed is used to make new plastic. Researchers found that plastic releases methane, which is 21 times more powerful than CO2, as it breaks apart. They found that plastic exposed to air produces twice as much methane as plastic submerged in water. The more plastic we choose to produce, the more methane we release into our atmosphere and accelerate climate change.

Toothbrushes found washed ashore along Windward Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi 

Plastics in the Food Chain

Plastic has become part of the human food chain. We eat fish that consume plankton that feed on microplastic. When humans ingest plastic, we absorb toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that can lead to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption, and other ailments.

What Can You Do?

A rainbow of marine debris collected on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi 

Realize your power! By refusing single-use plastics, reaching out to your businesses asking them to remove plastic from their products, and voting for environmental legislation you support, you are realizing the power you have to prevent plastic pollution. Californians can show their support for AB1080 and SB54 that will reduce single-use plastic in California! We all need to think beyond ourselves and consider the long-term impact our actions have so that future generations can enjoy a safe, sustainable future.

Article contributed by Fawn Liebengood