Since the beginning of the year, students and staff have cleaned up the same patch of beach on Malaysia’s eastern seaboard, collecting on average about 150 kilograms of plastic waste and other such debris. It would not be amiss for groups to come back with 200 plastic bottles they’d found at the high-water mark, or with hundreds of meters of fishing nets cut away from nearby juvenile mangroves. A notable event from our last beach cleanup was the discovery of an oil spill that coated most of the coast and the rubbish upon it!
Whilst that scene was devastating for those who participated in that particular cleanup, one of the more poignant discoveries came at a much smaller scale. A group of younger students found some food packaging inscribed with a use-by date of 2006 – a year most of them had been born in.
The message was clear - plastics do not biodegrade. They break down into smaller microplastics that are ingested by all living organisms in the ocean – that is if they aren’t swallowed whole by sea birds, turtles, whales and other large sea creatures. However, these microplastics don’t just affect the oceans. Food webs ensure that within any environment there is constant predation, this means that through a process called biomagnification, the amount of microplastics found in organisms increases the farther you travel up the food chain – eventually reaching us.
A recent study found that Europeans consumed an average of 11,000 pieces of microplastic in the diet, mostly through seafood. If that wasn’t alarming enough, it has been revealed that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was actually larger than anticipated – a surface area of 1.6 million km2 weighing upwards of 87,000 tons.
The need to address plastic pollution on a large scale has never seemed more pressing.
At Ecofieldtrips we encourage students to ‘Think Globally and Act Locally’. Being more aware of your actions and what consequences they may have is the first step in saving the environment. As Earth Day is approaching we urge you to reconsider the role plastic plays in your everyday life. There are many more environmentally friendly options available to reduce your reliance on single-use appliances that generate far more waste and harm than they do convenience. Make the smart choice when it comes to plastics and remember the Six Rs:
Refuse - this means not accepting things that are not the best option for the environment. For example, do you really need a plastic bag to carry your shopping?
Reduce -is it possible to reduce the amount of unsustainable materials used?
Reuse - could the product have another use? Could its parts be used in other products?
Recycle - could recycled materials be used, or is the product made from materials that are easily recycled?
Repair - is the product easy to repair rather than creating more waste?
- Rethink - is there a better way to solve this problem that is less damaging to the environment?
Vincent Diringer - EFT Biologist