It may be a step toward the right direction, but is it enough to significantly mitigate plastic pollution in our oceans?
Only recently, a dead sperm whale that washed ashore in eastern Indonesia was found to have 13 pounds of plastic trash in its stomach, including 115 plastic cups and two flip-flops. Indonesia is one of the world's top plastic polluters, second only to China.
Another young sperm whale that was found beached on the shores of southeastern Spain was discovered to have 64 pounds of plastic inside its stomach and intestines, which caused fatal infection.
The devastating effects of the ever-growing plastic problem are not limited to marine species. Ninety percent of sea birds have been found to have plastic in their stomachs. Worse still, the estimated 19 billion pounds of plastic trash that makes its way into the oceans every year is expected to double by 2025.
These plastics have already been killing animals the world over, but it does not stop there. Plastic pollution will destroy coral reef systems, which serve as shelter and breeding grounds for countless species; they will harm biodiversity and alter entire ecosystems; and they can lead to the creation of more and bigger oceanic dead zones. These plastics will also affect human health as they enter the food chain. (Related: The plastic pollution problem is wide AND deep: Study finds sea animals from the deepest parts of the ocean, 7 miles down, have plastic in their stomachs.)
There will likely be additional, unknown impacts. Researchers have only been studying oceanic plastic pollution for less than two decades. This threat demands aggressive action that only certain groups and countries can take.
Plastic pollution in the oceans has led experts and local people alike to raise concerns for the well-being of marine animals. After the discovery of the dead sperm whale in Spain, the government launched a widespread awareness and cleanup campaign. Canada pushed for international action on plastic pollution. In the U.S., nearly 2,000 restaurants and organizations have banned straws or implemented a straws-only-upon-request policy.
Unfortunately, banning plastic straws, plastic bags, and other plastic products can't make a significant enough impact to solve this problem before some of the effects become irreversible.
The environmental threat that plastic pollution poses is a growing problem that demands an ambitious solution. For years, many of us have been trying to do our part in mitigating this ever-growing problem through recycling. We bring reusable bags to the grocery store, we drink from reusable bottles. With every recycling endeavor, we are surely making a difference.
But here’s the catch – it doesn't really go away. As much as we try to properly dispose of plastic trash into recycle bins, it doesn't really disappear. Chances are, it still makes its way to our communities, oceans or waterways in some other way, shape or form.
The truth is that recycling alone won't completely stop the flow of plastics into our oceans. We have to get to the root of the problem: the production of plastic products. Think about it: If your home was flooding because you had left the faucet on, the first thing you do isn't to mop. You would first turn off the faucet – the source of the flooding. Our plastics problem is no different.
Drink companies alone produce over 500 billion single-use plastic bottles annually; there is no way that we can recycle our way out of a problem of that scale.
Corporations such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, etc., that continue to mass-produce single-use plastic products have to step up and help mitigate the mess they have helped create in the first place.