What is plastic pollution, its causes and effects
The most dangerous and common pollution of the century, should be plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is a big question that is posed to the World, right now. Due to the non-biodegradable nature of plastic, it is quite dangerous to make our environment polluted with plastics. Due to its property, plastic gained wide use over the whole world very easily and quickly.
This topic is all about what is plastic pollution, its causes and effects. The plastic pollution has led to many concerns on the whole planet and even has attacked the living being’s health to a very great extent. By the time we realised and was aware of it consequences, we were in such a position that we are not able to get rid of it.
Let us use our imagination. Imagine your home is in a garbage dump, a large land fill, smoky, smelly, hot, and difficult to breathe because of the constant stench that your nose can never get adapted to. You have to source your food from your surroundings, use only what available. Many times, as is always with garbage you can’t decide what is edible and what’s not. But that’s all you have got and you have to make do. You may have the prettiest home but you can’t grow a leaf because the ground is barren. Few millions in this world live in such appalling conditions. But if you are reading this, you have to use your imagination.
You wouldn’t wish such a fate even on your worst enemy. But we humans have brought these living conditions upon millions of beings who cannot speak for themselves. Each one of us is responsible. No one can wash his or her hands off of this unspeakable cruelty.
What is Plastic Pollution ?
Plastic is the wonderful lightweight, durable, moldable, versatile material which changed man’s life in many ways. Nearly every object you see around you has an element of plastic in it. It is used extensively as packaging material, disposable goods fishing nets, food wrappers and containers etc.
Plastic is so durable that it is non-biodegradable that means it will not break down into simpler compound and get absorbed into the air water or soil as beneficial components. A large piece of plastic will only break up into small pieces like confetti or fragments like very thin vermicelli. These will remain around for the next 1000 years and more.
Common forms of plastics are Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), High density and low density Poly ethylene (HDPE and LDPE), Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Polypropylene, Polystyrene, and Polycarbonates.
Plastic is completely generated on land and 80% of the waste is disposed off on the land. We sees our parts of our cities, drainages, water sources all littered and blocked by plastic bags, containers and remains of consumer goods. The remaining 20% is dumped at sea.
But almost 80 per cent of all the plastic wastes in the world find its way into the oceans. This is because plastic and its fragments are carried around by water runoff and wind and find their way to the seas. In the seas they are transported by the oceanic currents to faraway beaches in other countries even uninhabited islands.
Addition of plastics to the various components of our environment and consequent deleterious effects due to its non-biodegradability is called plastic pollution
Causes of plastic pollution
It was Capt. Charles Moore in 1997 who first publicly reported sights of swirling masses of plastic in the Pacific Ocean bringing media attention to this phenomenon. Till then the world was following the policy of “out of sight, out of mind.” These large masses were called the great plastic garbage patch or Gyres. A gyre is a large scale circular feature made up of ocean currents that spiral around a central point. The North Pacific gyre is a massive patch of marine litter in the Central North Pacific Ocean with a diameter of 100 miles. There are similar garbage patches present in at least every ocean.
Though large masses like these are seen often a lager extent of plastic waste is below the surface of the water. This constitutes marine debris which is defined as manufactured or processed solid waste material that enters the ocean environment from any source and persists here. Ocean environment includes beaches, coasts, oceans, sea floors, Inland waterways. The type and intensity of plastic pollution depends on the ocean currents and patterns, climate and tides, proximity to urban centres, industrial and recreational areas, shipping lanes and commercial fishing grounds.
In addition to this there is dumping activities in the water by vessels, including small power and sail boats, large transport ships carrying people and goods, offshore drilling rigs and platforms, fishing piers.
Components of marine debris are plastics, glass, metal, Styrofoam, rubber, derelict fishing gear, and derelict vessels. The top three items found Cigarette butts, plastic bags, and food wrappers and containers.
Effects of plastic pollution
Most of the plastic debris sink to the ocean bed and contaminate it. Minute fragments floats in the waters and are consumed mistakenly as food by marine mammals such as whales and sea lions, birds and even zooplankton. Zooplanktons are the smallest creatures in the oceans which are a source of food for many of the fish and mammals living here. Zooplankton constitute of rotifers, copepods, krill, larger animals eggs and larvae and microorganism like dinoflagellates and other protozoans.
Large hungry animals wolf down the plastics. After a while these accumulate in the digestive system. The animals then starve to death as they cannot ingest anymore because their systems are already full of plastic.
Many parent birds have to regurgitate the food for their hungry babies. They choke to death as they try to bring out the undigested plastic debris.
Millions of birds and large mammals are found dead with their corpses rotting, but the ingested plastic still intact in their stomachs. Birds are seen on beaches sorting through various coloured plastics fragments and picking out that which closely resembles their food.
All this makes the oceans a large bowl of garbage soup and can mankind call itself innocent when innocent creatures are forced to live and asked to survive in such an environment.
Entanglement in plastic debris of discarded fishing nets is a grave torment these animals are put through. All animals like seals sea lions dolphins’ sea turtles shark’s crocodile’s sea birds and crabs are caught in these. They starve or get lacerated as they escape and then their wounds are infected leading to death.
Some plastics leach out poisonous substance like BPA (Bisphenol A) as they decompose. Some plastics are shown to decompose very fast in lower temperature. Even if they go through photo degradation by sunlight or decompose naturally they still remain smaller pieces of plastic.
Plastic debris in the ocean act as sponges for other contaminants and become double toxic when hey absorbs these chemicals.
As mentioned earlier because of the buoyancy of plastics they can be carried very easily across seas to places very far away from their source of origin.
When all this is happening in the oceans, is it possible that man cannot be affected. The plastics and their leached toxins have entered into the food chain. Invariably fish and other mammals are consumed and the same toxins enter our bodies. Ranging from asthma and allergic reaction and diseases to all kinds of cancers in almost every part of the body; there is no sparing us.
Premature deaths, lower lifespans, birth defects, thyroid dysfunctions are attributed to Bisphenol A, a toxic product of plastic.
Ecosystem changes as species are wiped out and alien species take over adapting to the environment.
Coral reefs which are actually living growing organisms are also affected fatally. Plastic debris causes physical breaking off and suffocating of these coral reefs by not allowing sunlight to reach them.
What lies before us is a path which we must walk on in order to correct the mistakes done so far. It may not be easy. Hard decisions must be taken. But we must stick to these resolutions well, unlike New Year resolutions, till they become habits, because they will bring about the changes we need. It is a Herculean task to manage Plastic pollution. We must support our government and environmental organisations when changes for the better are brought about and demand policies and regulations when required. Let’s remember Plastic Pollution will give rise to new sources of global contamination.