Our planet has a huge plastic problem. We’ve produced 6.9 billion tons of plastic waste, and 79% of that piled into landfills or became litter, according to 2015 statistics reported in National Geographic’s recent “Planet or Plastic” campaign. Whether transported by wind or rain, tossed by individual litterbugs, or dumped by big manufacturers, much of this plastic pollution winds up in our oceans and waterways.
Walk along any beach and take note of the trash you see floating in the water or washed ashore. It probably won’t come as a surprise that plastic trash – including bottles, bags and packing materials – comprises 60 to 80% of all marine debris, according to a 2016 report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. And there’s far more plastic overwhelming our oceans than what you see on the surface.
Plastics never fully break down in the water, but they will eventually degrade into tiny “microplastics,” or fragments as small as sesame seeds, explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These microplastics are found from the beach sand down to the deep ocean floor, and they harm the aquatic ecosystem in ways scientists are just beginning to understand.
You’ve no doubt seen photos of seabirds tangled up in six-pack rings and other visible plastic debris, yet this pollution impacts marine life on many other levels. Turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish – and fish, seals, whales and countless more marine animals also ingest plastics, which can block their digestive tracts and ultimately lead to starvation.
Even if they don’t directly eat plastics, sea creatures can’t escape our pollution: They can intake microplastics just by breathing. In 2014, researchers at the University of Glasgow found that microplastics intaken by crabs via respiration lingered on their gills for up to three weeks afterward. Crabs may also consume plastic particles by eating contaminated prey such as mussels. Because humans are a part of the same polluted food chain, we intake those same particles when we eat affected fish, crabs and seafood, too.
While the effects of plastic entanglement and ingestion on sealife are well documented, researchers are still looking into the impact of chemical contaminants on aquatic environments. Additives commonly used to increase the pliability or durability of plastic, including phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), can leach into oceans through plastic debris, according to the 2016 EPA report. The Plastic Pollution Coalition also notes that plastic waste in landfills can break down and seep those same chemicals into groundwater, which then pollutes freshwater lakes and rivers.
At our current rate of plastic pollution, the oceans will be swimming with more plastic than fish, as calculated in weight, by 2050. But here’s another statistic to consider: From drinking straws to grocery bags to cleaning product bottles, more than 40% of all plastic is thrown away after just one use, according to National Geographic. That means we can slash the growing amount of plastic waste – and its scary impact on the environment – by swearing off single-use plastic and finding more eco-friendly alternatives.
Some swaps are obvious, like keeping a grocery tote handy or opting for a reusable water bottle over a plastic one, yet other sneaky single-use plastic products are overlooked. Take traditional liquid laundry detergents, which are packaged in high density polyethylene plastic. About 68% of these jugs don’t make it into the recycling bin, adding to the waste that filters into our oceans and waterways.
Dropps offers a solution to this problem in the form of laundry pods, which are made of plant-based, biodegradable ingredients and shipped in a 100% recyclable, repulpable, compostable cardboard box – unlike pods produced by bigger name brands. Dropps is committed to reducing single-use plastic waste, and our products help you join in our mission to protect our environment.
Beyond buying sustainable products, there are plenty more ways you can help lessen our plastic footprint. Join the Last Straw Movement and sip straight from the glass – more than 500 million straws are used every single day in America alone. Also make sure to recycle and properly dispose of the plastics that you do use.
Volunteering for clean-ups at beaches, in parks and throughout your own neighborhood is another big way to lend a hand and prevent trash from joining the sea of plastics already in our oceans, lakes and rivers. Bring friends with you, and you can accomplish even more together.
When we all quit single-use plastics and take a second look at our recycling habits, we can make a big difference for the good of this planet and its inhabitants, including ourselves and marine animals!
Image credits: rey perezoso/Flickr (main); Paul Williams/Flickr (otter); Thomastastic/Wikimedia Commons (fish graphic)