Our obsession with plastic is killing the planet. Over 270,000 tons of plastic debris are believed to be floating around on the surface of the world’s oceans. The California-based 5 Gyres Institute estimates that this is composed of roughly 5.25 trillion plastic particles. However, the particles floating on the surface represent only a small portion of the plastic debris that is held in the oceans as a whole. Around 8.8 million tons of waste find their way into them every single year. Tragically, many marine animals have died after ingesting or becoming entangled in this trash, and 700 marine animal species are threatened with extinction as a direct result of it. The real kicker is the finding that if you consume seafood, you are most likely eating plastic with every mouthful.
And now, a new study by New York/New Jersey Baykeeper has just revealed that the pollution problem in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary area has grown so bad that at least 165 million plastic particles are floating within the waters at any given time. As part of the study, eighteen water samples were collected from various sites around the estuary. Tiny microplastics – smaller than five millimeters – made up 85 percent of the particles found in the samples. Microbeads were found to be particularly abundant, likely because of their continued use in cosmetics and personal care products. President Barack Obama signed a nationwide ban on microbeads back in December, but products containing these minuscule plastics will not be fully removed from circulation until July 2018, so it is likely to take some time before the effects of the ban will become obvious.
“With a population of more than eight million, New York City must take aggressive policy action like phasing out foam and plastic bags to reduce damage caused by plastic pollution,” said Sandra Meola, Communications and Outreach Associate at NY/NJ Baykeeper. “Coupled with consumer education, legislation should be a priority, especially in the ‘go-to’ city. We can’t keep using throwaway products that are used for a few minutes, but take decades to break down.”
The study also noted that the plastic problem is more than just an issue of debris, microplastics easily absorb harmful chemicals such as pesticides and industrial waste that might be in the environment. Meaning, not only do we have to worry about plastic in the food chain, but these additional toxic compounds as well.
Dr. Sherri Mason, Professor of Chemistry at SUNY Fredonia, added, “Plastic pollution is everywhere, and the closer we get to the sources (us), the higher the counts. Our science will continue, but the facts are clear: we must re-evaluate our relationship with this material. Single-use disposable plastics are a plague to our waters and therefore to our society, but fortunately it is one that is easily solved. We had life before plastic and I have full faith we can find a way to break our plastic addiction.”
The report certainly paints a grim picture of the situation in NY and NJ. However, plastic pollution is a major problem not just in this area, but throughout the U.S. and the entire world. It has been estimated that unless we manage to curb our plastic addiction, a combination of plastic pollution and overfishing could render the oceans empty of all life by 2050 … or at least, that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by that date. If you want to know how you can help avoid this nightmare scenario and cut down on your plastic footprint, check out our articles, 10 Simple Actions That Just Might Save Our World’s Oceans From Plastic and 10 Life Hacks to Help You Cut Plastic Out of the Picture.
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