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WATERTOWN WEATHER

Our Plastic Oceans

Apr 17, 2024 11:56AM ● By Nicole Petrus

Plastics are very good for holding the fibers of your t-shirt together, or even for creating the glue that sticks your tea bags together, but plastics are also extremely effective at poisoning our oceans too; one massive garbage patch at a time.

In fact, there are five, one in the Indian Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean, and two in the Pacific Ocean. The most famous lies between California and Hawaii and spans 620,000 square miles, according to CNN. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t see these “patches” with the naked eye. Instead, the trash spreads across the surface and into the ocean floor, creating a soup of microplastics that can’t be scooped up or cleared away. Microplastics are broken down over time from larger pieces of plastics until they form into tiny pieces smaller than 5mm, and which seem to detrimental to the well- being of all living things,

Each year over 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide, 8 million metric tons of which end up in the ocean, according to The U.S. Department of State. To put this to scale, there are 500 times more microplastic particles in the ocean than there are stars in our galaxy. Every bit of plastic ever made still exists today and will continue to exist for another 500 years at least.

New research shows that most seabirds now eat plastics, so much so that it’s led to a new disease, plasticosis, causing stomach scarring and appetite loss. Birds feel less hungry as a result and this can change their growth spans – we know for example that Island Flesh-footed Shearwater’s wingspan, bill length, and body size have all shrunk in the last 13 years, due to plasticosis.

It is not just seabirds negatively impacted by plastics. Whales are paying a heavy price for our plastic addiction too. In 2019 a whale was found dead, with 88 pounds of ingested plastic inside its stomach. In fact, the whale’s stomach was as hard as a baseball and it almost certainly had a long painful death as a result that could have lasted over a year, according to marine biologist and environmentalist Darrell Blatchley. He and his team have found countless other whales and dolphins subjected to this same toxicity. Thousands of species of marine mammals die every year from ingesting or getting entangled in plastic, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. 

“It never occurs to us that creatures as big as whales are impacted by plastics but of course they are eating what is in the ocean – be it large bits of plastic trash or microscopic size pieces of plastic trash. The only way to stop all this harmful plastic trash is to make less plastics in the first place.”

AIDAN CHARRON, DIRECTOR OF END PLASTIC INITIATIVES, EARTHDAY.ORG

It’s not just aquatic life that is impacted, it is human life too: microplastics and their additive chemicals get into the human food chain and can lead to cancers and a whole catalogue of health issues. New research has found that microplastics have been found in human placentas, our hearts, our bloodstream, our lungs and our brains

Since March 2022, representatives from 175 nations have been working to agree on a UN Global Plastic Treaty to negotiate how we deal with our plastic problem. The fourth session of the International Negotiating Committee will take place over this year’s Earth Day, in Ottawa, Canada.

However, the plastic producing industry is now part of these negotiations and is spending time and money to deflect the conversation away from globally cutting plastic production to talk of plastic recycling and creating a circular plastic economy. Plastic recycling is a lie that the industry has been promoting for decades.

A lot of plastics can’t even be recycled. For example, the tops of your soda bottles are made of either thermoset or thermoplastic polymers which are formed with chemical bonds that cannot be reversed – so anything made from them cannot be recycled. In fact, only 9% of plastic globally is recycled and only a tiny 5% of plastics are recycled in the United States. It’s hardly the circular economy the plastic industry touts.

The fossil fuel industry owns the plastic industry, and since plastic is made from oil, they are not going to give up their plastic cash cow easily. If plastic production does not drastically decrease, the impact on human health and every other living species, could be catastrophic.

 




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