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  • Writer's pictureKaaya Sharma

Plastic Ocean: the detrimental effects of plastic pollution

Plastic Ocean (2016), by Craig Leeson, is a documentary about the detrimental effects of plastic pollution. What began as a search for the two types of blue whales off the coast of Sri Lanka ended up being one of the greatest explorations about the dire state of our oceans caused by human’s over-reliance on plastics. According to Tanya Streeter, a world champion free diver, we have made more plastic in the last ten years than we did a century before. Where does all this plastic go? It ends up in the ocean, killing an incredible amount of marine life since they cannot differentiate between food and plastic.

About 63 billion gallons of oil are used every year just to supply the U.S. with plastic water bottles. Over 90% of these bottles are used only once. Plastics are great because they are extremely durable, but are also dangerous because they are so indestructible. Every single plastic ever made is still on planet Earth in some form or another. By 2050, when the population explodes to almost 10 billion people, it is expected that plastic production will triple.

When we throw away plastic, 80% of it ends up in the ocean. Worldwide, scientists estimate that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic dumped in our oceans every year. By 2025, ten times more plastic is estimated to be dumped into our oceans, killing even more marine life. All the ecosystems of the world are based on a healthy ocean. If that part of the planet becomes dysfunctional, then all life on Earth will suffer.

The ocean is the world’s largest source of protein, accommodating more than 2.6 billion people. In some parts of the ocean, there are now more micro-plastics available than food. These micro-plastics are being eaten by marine life, which is also part of our food chain. That means it is very possible that these micro-plastics are getting inside of our bodies as well.

In Fiji, many people burn plastics instead of kerosene to cook their food since plastics are readily available and cheap. After doing an experiment, it was found that the smoke from the plastics released cancer-causing chemicals known as phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics more flexible, transparent, and durable. Phthalates are highly toxic because they have hormone-changing properties. According to Professor Sue Jobling, an editor of the World Health Organization (WHO), endocrine disruptors can interfere with many bodily functions like growth, metabolism, reproduction, kidney, liver, and early development.

PlasticPure is a company in Austin, Texas that formulates and tests plastic’s physical characteristics to see if they have estrogenic activity. An estrogenic activity happens when a chemical like BPA or phthalate leaches from plastic and enters our body where it mimics the hormone estrogen. According to the Center for Disease Control, 92.6% of Americans over six years old have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies. In addition, the FDA does not have any regulations on how chemicals from cosmetics, baby bottles, food cans, or silicones affect our hormones.

Plastic packaging for food makes up the majority of municipal waste in America. There is no quick fix to this problem since the use of plastics is so ingrained in our society. However, the film does offer a variety of strategies that we can implement. First, we can avoid plastic-containing products as much as possible. If we must buy products in plastic, like yogurt and cheese, then we can try to buy larger servings. In addition, when we buy fresh produce and meat, we can request brown bags instead. We can also make a positive difference by avoiding single-use and individually packaged items and recycling the plastics that we do end up using. Finally, we can involve our government, requesting them to reclassify plastics as hazardous substances that shouldn’t be left negligibly on the streets and in the environment.

In the end, it is up to us to embrace these changes and move away from the plastic culture. The whole planet is where we live. The ocean is everyone’s backyard and we must do everything possible to protect it.


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