The Not-so-fantastic Truth About Plastic
Photo by Christophe Launay.
I am a millennial. I grew up in during a time where toys like Barbie reigned supreme and my friends and I used to lip-sync Aqua’s song, ‘Barbie Girl,’ until our parents couldn’t take it anymore. But listening to the lyrics now, in the year 2017, is truly painful. Life in plastic, it’s fantastic? Wait a minute. Is this really the message that we’ve been sending to children? The answer is yes. Plastic is everywhere and I mean everywhere. From the toys we buy for our kids to the packaging of our favourite products to the little promotional “freebies” handed out at local grocery shops, plastic-free products remain a novelty despite the fact that plastic pollution is a dire problem across the globe.
A recent study conducted by University of Hull, Científica del Sur University, and the British Antarctic Survey has revealed that microplastics in the Antarctic region occupy an area far larger than previously anticipated – 14 million square kilometres to be exact. Microplastics refer to tiny particles, less than five millimetres in diameter, which are found in personal care products such as toothpaste and shampoo – they can also come from clothing fibres.
When krill consume plastic, larger marine mammals that prey on krill – such as whales – end up consuming it too. But plastic affects all kinds of aquatic life, whether large or small, and in doing so disrupts natural ecosystems leading to devastation and the extinction of natural wildlife. Research shows that 50% of sea snakes, turtles, otters, penguins, seals, crustaceans and manatees in the ocean have already consumed plastic as well as 90% of seabirds.
Plastic doesn’t just choke and poison aquatic life however, it poisons us too as it moves along the food chain and toxic chemicals get more and more concentrated. Studies show that shellfish eaters consume up to 10,000 pieces of plastic a year! Over time, these plastic particles release toxins which build up in our tissue. While the human health risks of consuming microplastics remain unknown, if the toxins in our bodies continue to build up, the consequences will likely be severe.
At least 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year. While the majority of plastic in the ocean does not come exclusively from South Africa (China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines are said to be the largest contributors), it is important not to undermine our role in creating a more sustainable and plastic-free planet.
If you’re wondering what you can do to help, check out our latest blog post: Less Plastic, More Change – Where Environmental and Social Activism Meet. Here we discuss four innovative local conservation projects as well as provide some practical tips on how to reduce plastic waste and consumption in everyday life.