Ocean Pollution from Plastic

Plastic is a polymer which is a chemical compound that can be molded into simple forms and used for many purposes: bags, containers, clothes, electronics devices. It is one of the most used material in the world and a breakthrough in Materials Science which makes food and drink products more available and cheaper. However, this material is causing a lot of problems to the environment and human health because we have not managed it properly. According to Charles Moore in her article about plastic pollution published on Britannica Academic, 4 to 12 million tons of plastic debris end up in the ocean each year, thus polluting and disrupting the wildlife.

Capture

(Photo taken from : https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottsnowden/2019/05/30/300-mile-swim-through-the-great-pacific-garbage-patch-will-collect-data-on-plastic-pollution/?sh=8caed5f489fe)

Ocean pollution from plastic detrimentally impacts marine animals and human health. Pollution is the process whereby a chemical substance, due to its presence in the nature, causes harmful effects on the surrounding area. Plastic materials are hardly biodegradable which means it lasts long before disappearing, thus contaminating the environment. While land pollution from plastic is well-known, ocean plastic pollution is overlooked; however, it is as dangerous as land pollution. One of the biggest ocean pollution cases is known as “The Pacific Garbage Patch” which is a huge amount of plastic as large as Texas State accumulated in the Pacific Ocean. It was discovered in the 1980s, and 80% of the materials composing it are plastics (bags, bottles, nets…). Those debris become more dangerous because the sun and the harsh environment of the sea tend to disintegrate them, thus breaking them down into smaller pieces. According to Harse Grant A. in his article about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch published on UCLA journal, states that over 250 species such as fish, sea birds and turtles are known to ingest plastic debris, mistaking them as their prey, thus killing them painfully. Once a specie consumes plastic, it enters in the food chain, and humans will eventually consume it because we are at the top of the chain. Based on the article about plastic published on Lexis Nexis Academic, Michelle Lalonde mentioned that plastics consumption can affect hormone secretion in the human body, which proves that this material has an inherent health detriment.

To prevent from these harmful consequences of plastic on human health and the wildlife, preventive and curative solutions should be adopted. Because of the huge amount of plastics already discarded in the ocean, a curative solution which consists of removing those debris becomes more urgent. This solution consists of creating technological devices to detect area in the ocean where plastic is abundant and then to clean it efficiently. Fort this reason, universities should encourage students to enroll in environmental science with a focus on oceans clean-up. By doing that, efficient devices and methods will be developed and the cleaning process will become less expensive and less effortful. As mentioned above, preventive solutions are also very important. They consist mostly on plastic recycling and reusing which can prevent this material from ending in the ocean.

These solutions are not easily achievable because the ocean is vast and the amount of plastic debris already discarded in it is substantial. In addition, private companies don’t have a direct benefit in removing trashes from the ocean which in turn leads to a lack of interest from universities in conducting research in this area. That’s why it should be a government preoccupation. Rewards and funding should be provided to encourage companies willing to do a such effortful task. By doing that, the amount of plastic waste in the ocean will be more likely reduced. However, it may take a very long time to have a clean ocean like we had before plastic was invented; nonetheless, this should be our goal if we want to prevent plastic from entering the food chain which can have severe consequences on marine animals and on us.

Author: marclaguerreblog

PhD Student in Civil Engineering at Rice University

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