Artist @messymsi collected over 20,000 pieces of plastic for this Art installation called “Plastic Ocean” in the Singapore Art Museum
WE ARE DROWNING IN A SEA OF PLASTIC
Plastic, with its wide variety of applications, is difficult to live with and extremely challenging to live without. It permeates every part of our daily lives from our children’s toys to our clothing, furniture, cosmetics and most alarmingly the very food we eat. The effects of these toxic plastic particles on our health are still unknown. Chemicals such as Bisphenol-A (BPA), Phthalates, and Styrene leach out of the containers and contaminate our food, beverages, skincare products and more. These harmful chemicals are known carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and estrogen mimickers and are affecting us on a cellular level. Because plastic never fully decomposes it leaves behind toxic compounds that bleed into the environment creating a host of problems and health issues.
It is hard to quantify which issue is most pressing because all seem so dangerous to humans and our environment. The waste produced from single-use plastic is taking over our landfills, and in our oceans has created at least five floating plastic islands called gyres; the largest being twice the size of Texas. Plastic pollution is causing irreparable damage to our waterways, ocean’s ecosystem, and the wildlife in the surrounding wetlands.
What is a Gyre?
A Gyre is caused by the Coriolis effect AKA the spinning of the earth. It is a naturally accruing vortex of wind and currents that rotates slowly, creating a gigantic slow-moving whirlpool effect. The ocean water in the middle of the vortex swirls even more slowly; it is almost still. This causes the plastic and debris in our oceans to collect and get trapped. These plastic islands are more like a swirling plastic soup. Although there are actual pieces of plastic and debris floating, mostly the particles are too small to be seen.
The never-ending movement of the ocean water breaks the plastics down and although it is not biodegradable, plastic is photo-degradable: when it is exposed to sunlight, it breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces. Plastics are petroleum-based and there chemical compounds are insoluble in water, which leads to the plastic soup not only containing pieces of plastic but chemical particles too small to see called persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs consist of carbon-containing chemical compounds that, to a varying degree, resist photochemical, biological and chemical degradation. Watered down, (pun intended) their toxicity lasts for hundreds even a thousand years. No wonder scientist call the gyres “toxic soup.”
Approximately 80% of all plastic pollution originates on land. It is thrown or blown directly or washed by rains into our streams, rivers, and lakes, eventually making its way to our oceans. The other 20% comes from recreational boaters, commercial and maritime industries and the military.
The 5 major gyres:
North Atlantic Gyre AKA the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
South Atlantic Gyre
North Pacific Gyre
South Pacific Gyre
Indian Ocean Gyre
The North Pacific Gyre is the largest. It is twice the size of Texas and up to nine feet deep. This gyre also contains the largest collection of ocean debris. An estimated eleven million tons of floating plastic covering an area of nearly five million square miles and growing. It swirls in the Pacific Ocean between the coast of California and the Hawaiian islands.
80% of the open ocean (not including coastal areas) is made up of gyres.
Gyres rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere.
There is no single answer to solving the worlds plastic problems, but awareness is the first step. Plastic is an integral part of our world’s culture and it’s not going anywhere soon, but it is critical that we curb excessive waste and ultimately eliminate single-use plastic. One person does make a difference. You inspire and lead the way for others, and before you know it, you are not just one. Perfection is not our goal; instead awareness and progress is what we need to achieve.
10 ways you can cut down on plastic.
1. Use reusable bags for grocery shopping. Less than 5% of shoppers use canvas, cotton or mesh bags
2. Use stainless/glass water bottles instead of plastic water bottles.
3. Use glass food containers for leftovers.
4. Use wax paper to wrap sandwiches.
5. Use glass, stainless or paper straws.
6. Use paper bags instead of plastic baggies.
7. Make a Conscious Choice when purchasing foods that are packaged in excessive packaging.
8. Bring your own non-plastic travel mug when getting your coffee to go.
9. Look for products packaged in glass.
10. Try using bamboo utensils instead of plastic or bring yours from home.
We would love to hear from you if you have any tips to reduce plastic use.
10 Alarming facts about plastics
1. Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 (Yes that’s billion) Styrofoam cups every year.
2. Approximately 500 billion bags are used each year.
3. The top five sources of single-use plastic are plastic bags, water bottles, to go containers, cups, and straws.
4. Plastic is not biodegradable, it’s photodegradable; it leaves behind POPs.
5. Plastics are estimated to represent almost 80% of the total marine debris floating in the world’s oceans.
6. On average, 46,000 pieces of plastic are swirling in each square mile of our oceans.
7. Every year, at least one million seabirds and 100,000 sharks, turtles, dolphins and whales die from eating plastic. They suffer painful deaths due to plastic entanglement.
8. Fish in the middle depths of the northern Pacific Ocean are ingesting as much as 24,000 tons of plastic each year.
9. 267 species around the world are harmed by plastic. 86% of sea turtles, 44% of seabirds and 43% of ocean mammals ingest or become tangled in plastic.
10. There is six times more plastic debris than plankton in the North Pacific Ocean.