World Oceans Day - How does Plastic Affect Ocean Life?
A look at the problem, addressing solutions, and imagining a future where we’ve solved our plastic crisis
Have you ever thought about what would happen if all life in the ocean died? Have you wondered how important having a healthy ocean is it to the survival of humanity? It’s important for us as humans to understand that we cannot survive as a species without healthy oceans, but oceans can and will survive without us humans. Let me say that again; if humans damage ocean health enough, we can potentially cause our extinction, the oceans, however, will recover and prosper without us. So when World Oceans Day comes around, it’s crucial for us to take the opportunity to come together in actionable ways and change the harmful industries and practices which are damaging ocean health.
Taking a look at our oceans in crisis
It has been reported that in April 2019 some 50 marine mammals, including cetaceans, whales, dolphins, porpoises, were found washed up on the shores of the U.K. with plastics found in their stomachs. From California to Alaska, more than 70 dead Gray Whales have washed up onto beaches, so far this year. These incidents are being categorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an ‘unusual mortality event,’ since it’s not entirely understood why so many whales have been found dead on these Pacific coast shores. But we know there are many factors at play in our oceans, including overfishing, climate change, plastic pollution altering the entire food chain, and diminishing species populations. With so many human-created factors potentially threatening ocean life, it’s time that industries who are profiting from the damage of ocean life, start taking responsibility, and reverse the destruction that has been done.
How does plastic affect ocean life?
Plastic is everywhere. In our current society, it’s nearly impossible to go one day, let alone one hour without seeing some type of plastic product or packaging. So it’s no surprise that this stuff ends up everywhere: in our houses, cars, streets, parks, rivers, landfills, incinerators, bodies, and of course, our oceans. Which is why so many of us have seen the countless images of turtles eating plastic bags floating in the sea. We’ve seen the dolphin with the plastic fishing net wrapped around its fins. We’ve seen the dissected bird that died of starvation because its stomach was filled with plastic, and the sea lion with a plastic band stuck around and lacerating its neck. It’s not hard to find images of the destruction we’re doing to ocean life with plastic. Just take a look.
The plastic crisis affecting our oceans starts with manufacturing
We’ve seen how single-use plastic bottles create a floating platform for a trash island in the Pacific Ocean that measures BIGGER than Texas! So how did it get there when we have recycling programs, and we put those bottles in the right bin; don’t they become another plastic bottle when we recycle? Not exactly. Because that would mean plastic is considered a closed-loop system but it’s not, and it never will be - because of the chemical make-up of the most common plastic types - like PET and HDPE plastics.
Our recycling programs are completely overwhelmed, and the system is broken. Most plastic now gets incinerated or transported to landfills - both situations leave a toxic mess behind. A portion of those plastic bottles not recycled float along waterways, eventually making it to the ocean where they congregate and kill off ocean life.
The small amount of plastic that does make it to the recycling program mostly ends up DOWNCYCLED, not turned into another plastic bottle. Don’t let anyone fool you: single-use plastic is just that— single-use. As such, it cannot be considered part of a closed-loop (using the same raw materials to make a product over and over) system. An aluminum bottle (like PATHWATER, for instance) can go from a recycle bin to a recycling plant where it will be turned back into a new aluminum bottle and be back on shelves in as little as 60 days - this is simply the nature of the closed loop recycling system of aluminum.
Because of this flawed system or plastic recycling, we need to address these materials at their source before they’re made, in the manufacturing process.
What can we do to really tackle the plastic crisis?
There are many things we can start to do, like ban single-use PET plastic, which is used to make so much of the plastic we see in our oceans today. But we shouldn’t wait until 2030 to do this; we should ban it now!
We are not only choking the oceans with plastic pollution, but we’re also changing ocean temperatures and destroying food chains, including our own. The real goal is for humans to create less, ideally zero waste. We, at PATHWATER, are serious about the #RefillNotLandfill hashtag. If we refuse to buy plastic and put pressure on mega-corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi that abuse plastic packaging, they will eventually have to change their ways. If mega-corps change the way they purchase plastic, the demand for plastic will decrease dramatically. If the demand for plastic decreases enough, the demand for oil decreases. If the demand for oil drops, we can stop drilling in incredibly eco-sensitive environments like the Arctic.
If we stop drilling and fracking for oil, stop releasing methane and other carbon pollutants into the air, we will slow down the effects of climate change. If we slow the earth’s rising atmospheric temperature, we can slow the warming of the oceans.
Let’s imagine the world we want to wake up to in 2050 on World Oceans Day
Imagine, it’s the year 2050, it’s morning time on World Oceans Day, and you and your family are getting ready to head to the beach and celebrate. But there are no beach cleanups anymore because humans aren’t generating waste any longer. Instead, people go to the beach for a different reason on World Oceans Day, to give thanks and celebrate the return of life to oceans and teach children how we once almost lost it all, including ourselves.
Parents and grandparents share stories about an odd material called plastic that almost overtook our lives. They talk about the plastic uprising that people had - when it finally became too much to bear. They remind us of the power we had to create so much damage and also the power we had to turn that around and do so much more good in the world. Here, on this day in 2050, we read news reports of animal populations thriving because humans took a stand together to protect animal life and biodiversity. We stopped overfishing, we started eating local, and now, we don’t worry about things like allergies or cancer, because we took a better path.
It’s amazing, too, because everyone drives cars that are run on sustainable energy and our way of life no longer damages our environment. In fact, all of our energy comes from various sources of renewables, including our gym, which generates energy when you go workout.
On this World’s Ocean Day in 2050, we share about our collective decision to halt the practice of drilling oil because it was causing far too much damage to warrant any longer, like climate change and oil spills that children these days know nothing about. In fact, trivial things like single-use plastic bottles and balloons are no longer made because we took responsibility for all animal life, and decided to part ways with frivolous things that used to harm animals.
We changed so many things and made life for everyone on the planet better, the way it should be. We took a better path, we got everyone involved, and we created a better world. We had the power to do this all along; all we needed was to believe in ourselves and come together. This is why we celebrate World Oceans Day differently than we did 30 years ago, in 2019 when we were told that by the time we reached this year, 2050, there would be more plastic in the ocean than fish. We’re so grateful we didn’t see this prediction come true, but it’s because we took action and didn’t wait for someone else to save us. So in 2019, this is what we did.
- Sign the PATHWATER petition that gives CA AB1080 & SB54 support and demands more precise language against single-use waste, especially PET and HDPE. Even if you don’t live in California, California leads the way, and you can have an impact by participating no matter where you are in the U.S.
- Call or write your governors, mayors, and legislators. Tell them we are in the middle of a plastic crisis, and it’s time for them to do something REAL, and not in 10 years. NOW. Tell them that we support AB1080 & SB54, but we want more!
- Ditch plastic! Though it’s currently challenging to go plastic-free, we can all make better choices and ditch plastic as much as possible. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Share the hashtag #RefillNotLandfill anytime you refill your bottle. Bring it with you everywhere you go, save money and the planet.
- Choose better when you’re at the store and help others in your life, make the same change. One bottle of PATHWATER is 100% reusable and recyclable (and affordable).
You see, World Oceans Day is much more than another environmental day, it’s a chance to make an even greater impact on our future by coming together around things that are killing ocean life. It’s a chance to take single-use plastic off our store shelves and fight to bring our planet back to better health. When we take action, our oceans, and all the life in them will thank us. But we have to be in this together.
Make sure to follow us on Instagram & tag @pathwater #refillit to join the conversation!