Growing up, whenever I found myself feeling overwhelmed or worried about life’s woes I would take a walk down to Lake Ontario, just steps away from our family home in Ajax. Hearing the waves crashing against the rocks and feeling the sand under my toes relaxed me.
Unfortunately, those were the only aspects of Lake Ontario that I could truly enjoy. The water was a grey opaque colour, and the beach itself was riddled with water bottles and litter. Lake Ontario was not as serene as I thought it be; it was incredibly polluted, not just with sewage backup but with plastic debris, man-made materials that have been discarded or lost to the ocean.
By 2050, the amount of plastic in our oceans will outnumber the amount of fish.
One of the biggest threats to our environment as of late is our generation’s need to produce and consume plastic. Over the last 50 years, global manufacturing of plastic has been on a steady rise. Industries flock to plastic for its so-called ‘benefits’: it’s flexible, lightweight, moisture-resistant, and relatively inexpensive. Shoppers use approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year, and this number is increasing. By 2050, the amount of plastic in our oceans will outnumber the amount of fish. The problem with plastic is that it takes many years to degrade, 20 to 1,000 years to be exact.
As a result of our desire to consume plastic, combined with our lack of respect for the environment, the aftermath has been disastrous for our lakes and oceans. Massive quantities of plastic debris move in with the currents. Beaches and oceans then flood with large debris and millions of plastic particles in place of the sand, all the while the slow plastic poison continuously washes ashore.
The environmental impacts surrounding plastic in our oceans are very real and affect not just humans but aquatic animals and sea birds alike. Unlike us, these animals are left to suffer helplessly as a direct result of plastic pollution. Over 100,000 marine creatures die each year from plastic debris accidents, whether from entanglement or from digestion. When a marine animal eats a plastic bag for instance, they will die as a result. Their body will decompose and leave behind that same plastic bag, and another animal will come along and eat that same bag, and the cycle continues.
According to research, there are 46,000 pieces of plastic debris in every square mile of ocean. Over time this plastic waste breaks into miniscule pieces, and in some parts of our oceans plastic debris outnumber plankton 26 to 1.
So what can we do to help reduce plastic pollution and clean up our oceans? I think our first duty is to start treating our environment like our own homes. You would never leave hundreds of water bottles or shopping bags on your living room floor. Then why do we insist on leaving these items on the road or in our public parks?
We can all take steps to reduce our dependence on plastics.
I truly believe if we work together we can improve the quality of our oceans. There needs to be a global consumer shift from disposable plastics to more reusable materials including glass and stoneware. Weaning yourself of plastic can be hard; trust me I know. It took me over two years to stop buying bottled water. However, it is not impossible. We can all take steps to reduce our dependence on plastics, including using reusable shopping bags, not buying so much takeout food, and recycling the plastics we do use appropriately.
It’s also important to write your MP, to encourage environmentally responsible legislation and cleanup efforts.
Once we have begun the transition to a more sustainable way of life, new policies and modern technology can be implemented to use the once-discarded plastic. Plastic debris is already being recycled in the manufacture of clothing, park slides, benches, and fences.
Entrepreneur Gregor Gomry’s company RePlast, for example, is transforming plastic debris into many different objects, including his newest innovation: recycled-plastic building blocks for home construction. The idea is to first introduce these plastic building blocks in low-income areas, and then bring them to the larger housing market. These kinds of innovative solutions, if implemented correctly, can totally change the game when it comes to fighting plastic in our oceans.
If we stop caring about the next generation and believe that our oceans are a floating garbage can, we will have no change. This shift needs to begin with us.