(ANTIMEDIA) Recent reports of a phenomenal quantity of plastic inundating the world’s oceans are alarming enough — but another aspect of the problem should snap everyone to attention: humans ultimately consume that plastic.
According to Plastic Oceans, this pollution and its effects are “an environmental catastrophe of our own making.” Indeed, humans produce in excess of 300 million tons of plastic each year — “equivalent to the combined weight of all adult humans on earth” — and nearly “half of this we use just once [and] then throw it away.”
Further, the perceived conveniences of tossing items into the garbage is pure illusion.
“There is no ‘away’ because plastic is so permanent and so indestructible,” said Sir David Attenborough, according to Plastic Oceans. “When you cast it into the ocean … it does not go away.”
For the benefits plastic originally appeared to offer, the untold number of products now made of or contained in plastic has created an environmental and health nightmare arguably unlike any other.
In 2015, the BBC reported eight million tons of plastic — enough to cover “an area 34 times the size of New York’s Manhattan Island to ankle depth” — finds its way to the planet’s oceans every year. Such a quantification of our plastic waste was finally possible thanks to a study published in Science Magazine and presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
“The quantity entering the ocean is equal to about five plastic grocery bags full of plastic for every foot of coastline in the world,” Dr. Jenna Jambeck, study lead author from the University of Georgia, told the BBC. Study researchers caution the findings and quantifications are a middle ground, as plastic — despite its indestructible traits — can still break down into smaller pieces and particles.
A more recent study by the World Economic Forum estimated the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050 — in part because a “staggering” 32 percent of plastic packaging “escapes collections systems.” Even so, only 5 percent of plastics are effectively recycled — making the WEF’s prediction for the use of plastic to double in the next 20 years even more dire.
Truthout noted recent “estimates indicate that upwards of 8 million tons of plastic are added to the planet’s oceans every year, the equivalent of a dumptruck full of plastic every minute. That is enough plastic to have led one scientist to estimate that people who consume average amounts of seafood are ingesting approximately 11,000 particles of plastic every year.”
Unless we turn to alternative and less toxic means for producing plastics — such as hemp — our failures in recycling will, indeed, come back to haunt us. As phytoplankton populations drop and overfishing remains an issue, marine plastic pollution simply compounds a massive catastrophe.