Living in a first world country affords us a certain standard of life. Things are more comfortable and more convenient, but not necessarily more efficient or sustainable. There is a price that is paid by the environment and by our species for some of the aspects of life that we utilize on a daily basis.
Arguably, one of the more controversial inventions to grace our lives over the last few decades is plastic. It certainly does offer up a greater degree of comfort and convenience. You can grab a bottle of water nearly anywhere without having to worry about finding a drinking fountain or faucet. You don’t have to remember your shopping bags for every little visit to the grocery store – they’ll probably be able to hook you up with some plastic ones anyway. And you don’t have to worry about portioning out your morning yogurt or jug of juice when you can buy individual plastic cups and bottles of each. Personal care items like razors are cheap to buy and easy to chuck after a few uses. Again, comfortable and convenient, but not at all efficient and sustainable.
As news stories break every day telling of the horrors that plastic is doing to our oceans, one is left to wonder if the benefits that plastics offer us really outweigh the costs. Does the ease in which individual plastic food and beverage containers bring to our morning routine justify the injury or death of an animal? What about plastic grocery bags? Or a drinking straw?
The reality is that all of these items add up to a steep 8.8 million tons of plastics that get discarded into our oceans every year. That’s right, around 80 percent of all trash that we create on land ends up in our oceans, of which, 90 percent is plastic. And what of our treatment of an organism, if you can call the ocean that, that sustains our lives on earth in countless ways? What kind of gratitude are we showing by trashing the ocean after all it does for us?
The Air We All Breathe
The waves of plastic that our world’s oceans are hit by every single year, year after year, are a mockery of the very air we breathe. Scientists have concluded that at least half the oxygen in our atmosphere originated from phytoplankton floating at the surface of the ocean. And yet, this ecosystem that demands our utmost respect for the manner in which it sustains every breathing organism on this planet, is being assaulted by plastic on the daily. Surely this isn’t the greatest form of gratitude we can muster?
The Water We Are All Sustained By
Water is often called “the elixir of life” and nothing could be truer. Water not only helps all living things carry out vital bodily functions, it can also act as a habitat for many species, provides food and sustenance, and even act as a place for reflection and recreation.
By threatening our global oceans with on onslaught of plastic, we are threatening life as we know it. Without a healthy and functioning living ocean to rely upon, we lose the promise of health and life for ourselves. Oceans supply the hydrologic cycle with water via evaporation which then arrives to us in the form of precipitation. It is the water that fills our rivers and lakes, that waters our crops, that dusts our mountains in snowy white, that supplies our homes with hydration and sanitation, and that grows our forests and grasslands. And again, we are forgetting the gifts the ocean has bestowed upon us, deciding to fill its waters with a toxic soup, a fragmented mosaic of waste.
The World We All Share
Plastics are quietly raging a war on all forms of life around the world with the poisonous nature of its composition. The world we share with each other and other species is suffering. Animals so unlucky to collide with plastics in a marine environment are under threat of injury, illness, and even death. And the chemicals in plastics have been shown to leach out into marine habitats, accumulating from one host to the next, often ending up in the human body. We are actively poisoning the world around us, and thus all life forms, including ourselves. And all for the promise of comfort and convenience.
Re-Gaining Our Perspective
The problem that plastics in our oceans present can immediately be seen as a physical problem. It is robbing animals of a safe and clean home, people of healthy and reliable food sources, and our ecosystems of biodiversity, just to name a few of the associated issues.
In addition to the physical damage that plastic in our oceans is representative of, this mess is also an indication of humankind’s loss of touch with the world we live in. Perhaps you may see this as a loss of spirituality and/or logic, but we really seem to have forgotten that we are not disconnected from the planet we inhabit. We have lost perspective of who and what we are in the grand scheme of things, as well as who and what we impact with our choices. Just as the rhythms of the planet impact our everyday lives, so does man impact the planet on a daily basis.
While plastics possess a very real and tangible threat to life on planet Earth, they are also a reflection back on ourselves, showing us where we are stumbling as members of the great tree of life. We share this planet not only with those in our current circle but with every human soul around the globe. We share it with every person that has ever been and will ever be alive. With every creature, large and small, that has walked, swam, or flown on this planet. With every tiny plant and massive tree to rise out of the soil. All of it.
And yet, we’re continuing to produce and use a material that, for the sake of saving time or space or forethought, is hurting everything from the moment it is created. Everything.
We have to seriously question whether we will compromise all of life for the sake of plastic. How much longer can we permit a material to allow us to value the here and the now rather than the planet and the people of tomorrow?
Lead image source: Stefano Mortellaro/Flickr