Seagulls flock to plastic waste and other trash near the mouth of the Los Angeles River in 2015. (Los Angeles Times)
Downtown Magnets High School

The harm caused by plastic pollution

Plastic pollution has been around since the 1960s and up to today’s date, the amount of plastic found in our oceans has increased over the years. This an issue that has to be taken more seriously because it’s putting humans and marine life at risk.

We produce 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year and 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans every year, according to the 2018 UN Environment report.

Plastic enters the ocean from coastlines, tides, rivers, and marine sources. The amount of plastic that is washed out into our oceans is usually because of the landfills that no longer have enough space to contain all of the trash we throw out resulting in a bigger problem.

Californians should reduce the amount of plastic found in our landfills to prevent the increase of plastic pollution in oceans. Plastic does not decay fast enough so instead, it turns into small microplastics that are found almost everywhere. This plastic pollution creates a huge disturbance to marine life, it risks the safety of human seafood eaters, and landfills are running out of space to supply all of the waste.

The amount of plastic found in oceans has impacted marine life and endangered so many of them leading them to risk of extinction.

A 2018 article published by Pew reads, “On many beaches, plastic pollution is so pervasive that it’s affecting turtles’ reproduction rates by altering the temperatures of the sand where incubation occurs.

The plastic pollution found in these oceans is making the reproduction of these animals decrease. For example these turtles. The reduction of the reproductive system leads to the possibility of extinction of these groups of marine animals.

The possibility of extinction of these marine species it can cause other animals to be endangered especially if they rely on these animals for food supply.

The plastic found in oceans is also being digested by marine life. “Fish, seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals can become entangled in or ingest plastic debris, causing suffocation, starvation, and drowning,” according to Pew.

The plastic that is ingested causes tumors and liver problems because of the plastic particles that are being transferred into their bloodstream. All of these plastic particles that are ingested risk human seafood eaters. 

Seafood eaters enjoy the taste of their food but many of the times the seafood that they are consuming is filled with microplastics that have been ingested by the animals risking their health.

The number of pollutants that are present in fish is extremely dangerous to human health especially to those who may eat seafood daily.

According to 2012 research by Montana State University students, “Over time the polymer chains of BPA break down, and can enter the human body in many ways from drinking contaminated water to eating a fish that is exposed to the broken down toxins. Specifically, BPA is a known chemical that interferes with human hormonal function.”

BPA (bisphenol) is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and is not only found in seafood but also in drinking water. This means that non-seafood eaters are also at risk of ingesting this industrial chemical which affects human hormonal function. There have been huge amounts of microplastics found in huge quantities in bottled water and many other commonly consumed foods and drinks so one can’t say they are safe if they aren’t eating seafood.

This can lead to harmful health effects. According the Center for Biological Diversity, a study found that “a quarter of fish at markets in California contained plastic in their guts, mostly in the form of plastic microfibers.” 

The increase in plastic pollution makes an appearance in oceans due to the lack of space found in landfills. Currently, the U.S. has 3,091 active landfills according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to a 2018 Global Citizen article, “Some states, including New York, already ship a huge amount of waste to other states because they have nowhere to put it within their borders … the U.S. is on pace to run out of room in landfills within 18 years, potentially creating an environmental disaster.”

This issue can potentially lead to a bigger problem causing not only environmental problems, but can hurt the economy in the United States. 

“The majority (65.4%) of materials discarded by homes and businesses in the U.S. are ultimately dumped into landfills or burned in incinerators. The U.S. only composts and recycles about half that much material at 34.6%,” according to Frontier Group

Many people find plastic pollution not to be such a problem because they believe it’s a myth to scare others. A 2016 Slate article reads, “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has always been less substantial than it sounds, less an island in the ocean than a big idea that floats around inside our heads.”

This “problem” is being exaggerated and it is not as bad as it sounds.

The 2016 Slate article continues, “Let it be said straight up that what we came upon was not a mountain of trash, an island of trash, a raft of trash, or a swirling vortex of trash — all media-concocted embellishments of the truth.”

Plastic pollution is shown in different platforms, some show how it is impacting our world and others show us that the problem is “fake” and shouldn’t be taken seriously, creating a different perspective on the topic. 

This plastic pollution creates a huge disturbance to marine life, it risks the safety of human seafood eaters, and landfills are running out of space to supply all of the waste. There should be a reduction in the amount of plastic found in landfills to prevent the increase of plastic pollution in oceans because it is becoming a bigger problem.

The fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40% over the next decade, according to Global Citizen. These oil giants are rapidly building petrochemical plants across the United States to turn fracked gas into plastic. This means more toxic air pollution and plastic in our oceans.

The amount of plastic that is washed out into our oceans is about 8 tons and it’s just going to increase over the years if there is nothing to be done. Currently with the pandemic masks are being dropped in the streets and aren’t picking up creating an extra increase in plastic. This plastic pollution will result in a much more complex problem if there isn’t a decrease in plastic.