By Alice Healy, First Year English Literature and History
Plastic is an everyday, and largely unavoidable, part of life. The material has proved to be extremely versatile and has played a major role in the technological advances we benefit from today. However, plastic has recently been reviled as an environmental disaster, and rightly so.
Studies are increasingly displaying how our excessive plastic consumption is damaging our natural world, and perhaps even our own bodies. Eradicating plastic completely is not only impossible, but also impractical, as we rely on the material in so many ways, even medically and technologically; however, choosing some simple and accessible alternatives can make a bigger impact than one might first think.
The major issue with plastic is that many products made from the material are designed to be used only once, meaning more than 70% of the total plastic production is now in waste streams. These single use items (such as straws, plastic bags and plastic bottles) not only end up in landfill, but also in waterways. The BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary highlighted the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans, particularly how microplastics – which have pervaded every part of Earth’s oceans, from the Arctic to the Mariana Trench – may increase the uptake of pollutants into marine life.
it would seem eliminating seafood from our diets is the best place to start
However, from an environmental standpoint, we must look beyond the plastic straws, bags and bottles that end up in the ocean. The major contributor to ocean plastic pollution is surprisingly the fishing industry. Of the 79,000 metric tons of floating plastic in the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, most is actually abandoned fishing gear, according to the National Geographic. A study on the Pacific’s plastic patch, published in Scientific Reports, states that 46% of the floating plastic is fishing nets, and the majority of the remaining plastic is made up of ropes, eel traps, crates, oyster spacers and other fishing industry equipment. If we want to reduce our plastic consumption’s effect on marine life, it would seem eliminating seafood from our diets is the best place to start.
A study from Ghent University calculated that a regular shellfish consumer would likely be ingesting up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood annually. Correspondingly, a study from Plymouth University stated that plastic could be found in around a third of UK-caught fish. Not only does buying ocean-caught fish mean supporting a highly polluting industry, but those who often eat fish would also likely be consuming an animal who was exposed to high levels of microplastics and pollutants.
The easiest ways to reduce our daily use of plastic are extremely simple and can even save money over a long-term period. Investing in a reusable water bottle and a canvas tote bag instantly means you no longer have to purchase plastic bottles of water or single use supermarket bags. The only action you have to take beyond that is actually remembering to bring them with you! If you often frequent coffee shops, then investing in a reusable coffee cup can actually save you money, as coffee shops are increasingly offering discounts to those not using disposable cups. The plastic lining of the cardboard cups means the majority never get recycled, so buying a reusable mug saves a huge amount of waste from going to landfill.
The onus is on us to begin the conversation
The plastic issue requires a global solution, but by taking simple everyday steps, positive change can begin to take shape. The onus is on us to begin the conversation about unnecessary plastic consumption and take as much action as is practicable and possible in our everyday lives.