A Plastic Disease

Caitlynn Goppert

Caitlynn Goppert, Editor

With the globalization of the economy over the last century, there has been increased pollution of the world’s streams, rivers, and oceans, disrupting ecosystems and the health of the ocean’s wildlife. Numerous forms of human pollution contaminate the oceans, but plastic may be the least controlled. Unknown to most people, for every three pounds of fish in the ocean, there is one pound of plastic. More than 60% of seabirds and 98% of turtle species have had plastic discovered in their bodies, and the numbers are only going up.

There are numerous sources of the plastic, garbage, and other forms of pollution in the ocean but all of them can be reduced into one common factor: popular companies throughout the world. Several companies account for a large portion of plastic pollution in the ocean. In an article from Forbes published on October 29th, it was shown that Coca Cola, Nestle, and Pepsico were responsible for much of the garbage collected at a clean-up event conducted by Break Free From Plastic.

With all of the trash in the ocean, the effects on wildlife are significant. With substantial contamination by plastics, sea wildlife of all kinds frequently ingest plastic.  According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “Hundreds of thousands of seabirds ingest plastic every year… It’s estimated that 60 percent of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic, with that number predicted to increase to 99 percent by 2050. Dead seabirds are often found with stomachs full of plastic, reflecting how the amount of garbage in our oceans has rapidly increased in the past 40 years.” Research conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) found that turtles had a 22% chance of dying if it ate just one piece of plastic. Once a turtle had 14 plastic items in its body, there was a 50% likelihood of death. The World Wildlife Foundation found that each year, about 100,000 marine mammals die each year due to ingestion of plastic. 

This overwhelming amount of research and evidence show how dire the situation is for our oceans and their inhabitants. But how does this affect us as humans?

Do you think about what is in the seafood that you eat? Most likely not, but this is a valid reason to: “Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year.” (The Guardian) The same source says that, “Microplastics – which range in size from 5mm to 10 nanometres – come from a number of sources. One culprit is ‘nurdles’, the raw plastic pellets shipped around the world for manufacturing, easily lost during transportation”.  Tox Town, a government run site, says that, “Microplastics both absorb and give off chemicals and harmful pollutants. Plastic’s ingredients or toxic chemicals absorbed by plastics may build up over time and stay in the environment”.

There are many negative effects on the environment from the sizable amount of plastic in 1the ocean. From mass extinction to destroyed habitats and public areas, to companies and humans now being affected by microplastics, the world is feeling the consequences. When will a change be made in order to preserve what’s left and restore what’s gone?