The ocean is turning into a plastic soup. Most plastic pollution at sea starts out on land as litter on beaches, streets, and sidewalks. Rain or overwatering from sprinklers flushes that litter through the storm drain system or directly to creeks, streams, and rivers that lead to the ocean.
After plastics enter the ocean, they slowly break apart into smaller pieces that marine animals can mistake for food, sometimes with fatal results. Ocean currents concentrate plastic pollution in five main areas of the world’s oceans. Scientists who study oceans are learning more and more about the harm being caused by all of this plastic.
Plastic is all around us. We use it to package food, bottle products, bag produce, make dishes and utensils, make toys, and so much more. Plastics have helped us to manufacture, package, and ship goods more easily, more cheaply, and in some cases more safely than ever before.
But as we are learning in our oceans, plastics present a huge threat to our planet as well. Part of the problem is plastic itself. The same features that make it adaptable and long-lasting create problems when plastic is littered. Plastics do not decay into natural and useful resources. Instead, they photodegrade, which means they are broken into smaller and smaller pieces when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. As a result, nearly every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form.
Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce plastic litter and plastic pollution:
- Choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and bottled water. Cloth bags and metal or glass reusable bottles are not expensive and are easy to find.
- Refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws, and other disposable (one-use) plastics.
- Reduce everyday plastics, such as sandwich bags and juice boxes, by replacing them with a reusable lunch bag or box that includes a thermos.
- Recycle. If you do use plastic, try to choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics.
- Volunteer to pick up litter.
Photo credit: Thurston County Solid Waste