On a boat off Costa Rica, a biologist was forced to use pliers from a Swiss army knife to try to extract a plastic straw from an olive ridley sea turtle’s nostril as it withered in agony. Last year, a juvenile sperm whale was found on the coast of Spain with 30kg of plastic in its gut. Just months later, in Thailand, a pilot whale was killed by 80 plastic shopping bags. Closer to home, thousands of seabirds living along our beautiful coastline die as a result of plastic. In some cases, the skeletons have entirely biodegraded; yet the stomach-size plastic piles are still present. Scientists warn that in 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish in the sea.
From being strangled in nets, choking on plastic and other gruesome and cruel fatal encounters with man-made garbage, creatures worldwide are dying from materials we toss away.
Right now there are more than 51 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. That’s 51 trillion deadly hazards that animals need to avoid. While nowhere is the plastic scourge more evident than along our coastlines and in our oceans, plastic pollution just as easily finds its way onto land. Unlike humans, wild animals do not have the ability to discern plastic from digestible materials. Simply put, if it looks like food, or smells like food, or tastes like food or behaves like food, then it must be food.
A video recently went viral of a raccoon with a peanut butter jar stuck on its head. What viewers weren’t shown is images of the same raccoon dead from dehydration and starvation. Other images show wild animals losing limbs, convulsing, vomiting and undergoing surgery for punctured internal organs as a result of plastic. Discovered in agony, a calf that had to euthanaised was found to have eaten eight plastic bags. In November 2008 in Australia, a 10-foot-long crocodile tagged as part of a government wildlife-tracking programme turned up dead, having consumed 25 plastic shopping and garbage bags.
Since its invention in 1907, its use around the world has grown exponentially. Over the last 50 years alone, global plastic production has increased 20 times. What makes it useful for people – its durability and light weight- increases the threat to animals. Made to be used just once, plastic can last forever in the environment. Plastic does not decompose – it will be ready to kill again soon.
Sir David Attenborough, a famed naturalist and television personality, has put his voice and the weight of authority he has accumulated to help fight the effects the surge of manmade pollution has on wildlife. “We’ve seen albatrosses come back with their belly full of food for their young and nothing in it. The albatross parent has been away for three weeks gathering stuff for her young and what comes out? You think it’s going to be squid, but it’s plastic. The chick is going to starve and die,” says David. “We may think we live a long way from the oceans but we don’t. What we actually do here has a direct effect on the oceans and what the oceans do then reflects back on us. It is one world. And it’s in our care. For the first time in the history of humanity, for the first time in 500 million years, one species has the future in the palm of its hands. I just hope he realises that that is the case.”
While saving our planet from man-made pollution sounds like an almost impossible task, every bit helps and the difference starts with you. It may be difficult to avoid waste in all aspects of life, but surely you can find ways to reduce your dependence on it. If you’re part of the plastic problem, then it’s time to become be part of the solution by reducing the amount of plastics you use. Buy ready-to-make foods in larger single packages rather than individual ones and try to avoid produce wrapped in plastic bags or packaged in plastic trays. Eliminating your single-use plastics and opting for reusable products in their place helps decrease the amount of plastic that infiltrates into landfills. Invest in reusable or paper straws instead of plastic straws and make it a habit to cut the plastic drink holders (around milk cartons, for example) so the rings won’t entangle an animal.
See also: International Day Of Action For Rivers
Aside from plastic, remember polystyrene foam breaks apart easily, but it persists in the environment in tiny particles, and every bit of it ever made is still out there and could continue to threaten wildlife for hundreds of years to come, so opt for paper cups instead of polystyrene ones. The policy of not littering and picking up any litter you come across on your travels through life should be taught in every household.
Did You Know?
- A piece of plastic as small as a chocolate wrapper can prove fatal to mammals plastic pollution affects at least 700 marine species, while some estimates suggest that at least 100 million marine mammals are killed each year from plastic pollution.
- Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and are found in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments.
- Even plankton, the tiniest creatures in our oceans, are eating microplastics and absorbing their hazardous chemicals. The tiny, broken down pieces of plastic are displacing the algae needed to sustain larger sea life who feed on them.
- In South Africa, we dispose of millions of plastic straws each day with hotels and restaurants being among the worst offenders.
What Celebs Say
“We are being choked to death by the amount of plastic that we throw away. It’s killing our oceans. It’s entering into our bodies in the fish we eat.” – Kevin Bacon
“To me, I think people who don’t think it’s a big deal to toss a plastic bottle in the garbage are not only being irresponsible, but I think they’re being disrespectful of all the other humans on earth.” -Sophia Bush
“Plastic waste is now found in the most remote areas of the planet. It kills marine life and is doing major harm to communities that depend on fishing and tourism.” – Antonio Guterres
“I hate the hand that comes out of a car and just drops litter in the street. I hate that! For some reason, it just fills me with fury! It’s just utter laziness, lack of interest in other people, lack of interest in the planet, in the hedgehog who might eat the plastic bag, it’s a lack of concern.” – Joanna Lumley