Plastic Contamination and Marine Ecosystem Safety

Every year humanity creates innovative technologies, some of which have the potential to change the order of life fundamentally. Although the first plastic was invented by Alexander Parkes in 1855, it only became prevalent a few decades ago. For modern humans, plastic bags, cups, cocktail tubes, and glasses are not surprising. The vast majority of humanity, however, has little regard for the fact that plastic poses a serious environmental hazard. This essay will elaborate on why plastics should be suspended in favor of marine ecosystem safety.

Among the fighters for the safety of nature, there is a deeply held belief that if a person does not dispose of the plastic bag properly, but throws it away, the container will return as contaminated food. However, this did not stop the producers and consumers of plastic bags. With advantages, such as durability and cheapness compared to other materials, the production of plastic products increases every year (Garello et al., 2019). Nevertheless, recently humanity has begun to think about the harm plastic does to nature and human life.

The increase in plastic production had a significant impact on World Ocean water. Thus, according to Cressey (2016), the volume of plastic produced annually by the world community is over 300 million tons. Studies show that more than 10% of the plastic used enters the world’s oceans, equivalent to tens of millions of tons of plastics of various sizes (Garello et al., 2019). According to the findings of Garello et al. (2019), unless humanity takes action to reduce plastics production, there will be more plastics in the world’s oceans than fish.

A significant threat is not so much the plastic itself, but what it can become. In 1988, based on an analysis of several ocean currents and an assessment of the plastic drifting with them, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a report that predicted the existence of a place to which all ocean garbage aspires (Williams, 2017). It was later confirmed that the spot existed: when put together, large pieces of plastic, including bags, form large areas (Critchell et al., 2019). Plastic islands have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems. Such areas occupy entire ecological niches, displacing ocean inhabitants and blocking access to light for phytoplankton. As a result, plastic islands can not only cause the extinction of specific species but can also significantly affect the oxygen concentration in the atmosphere.

In addition to large pieces of plastic bags, the smallest ones are also a big problem. Polyethylene in ocean water decays into millions of tiny particles when exposed to the sun and constant collision with each other (Avio et al., 2017). The deterioration results in the formation of microscopic elements that remain floating in all layers of water. Plastics in the oceans typically decompose within a year, but not wholly, and in the process, toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A and polystyrene can enter the water (Lin et al., 2017). Complementing this problem is another unique feature of microplastics, namely the ability to absorb various liquids (Wang et al., 2018). Particles that have absorbed medicines, cosmetics, oil, or toxic substances release these compounds into seawater, creating potentially dangerous areas for inhabitants.

In addition to large pieces of plastic bags, the smallest ones are also a big problem. Polyethylene in ocean water decays into millions of tiny particles when exposed to the sun and constant collision with each other (Avio et al., 2017). The deterioration results in the formation of microscopic elements that remain floating in all layers of water. Plastics in the oceans typically decompose within a year, but not wholly, and in the process, toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A and polystyrene can enter the water (Lin et al., 2017). Complementing this problem is another unique feature of microplastics, namely the ability to absorb various liquids (Wang et al., 2018). Particles that have absorbed medicines, cosmetics, oil, or toxic substances release these compounds into seawater, creating potentially dangerous areas for inhabitants. In this way, plastic is included in the food chain and reaches the person who eats fish and other seafood.

In addition to the negative effect on sea creatures, plastic is also harmful to humans. The global water cycle in nature brings plastic waste back to humans for food. By consuming seafood, birds, and other animals, people eat microscopic plastic particles. Once in the body through water runoff, the particles can poison the gastrointestinal tract with bisphenol and other toxic substances released by plastic (Lin et al., 2017). As they accumulate, this leads to cancer, reduced immunity, allergies, and lower fertility (Verma et al., 2016). Conscientious citizens should, therefore, be interested in limiting the amount of plastic produced and consumed.

The arguments described above lead to the conclusion that it is reasonable to prohibit the use of plastic bags at the federal levels. Similar measures have already been taken in India, France, and Africa (Where are Plastic Bags Banned, n.d.). There are, however, still views that the problem of plastic bags is greatly exaggerated. Typically, those opposed to banning operate at the possible economic cost to producers due to the ban (Henry & Catarino, 2018). Cancellation of production will have an impact on wage cuts and cause social and economic collapse in many countries. It is difficult to disagree with this, but the financial losses can hardly be called worthy of arguments against the preservation of the planet’s security. If plastic producers do not think about the damage to the goods they create today, the protection of financial resources may be meaningless in an environment where future life is impossible. Ultimately, a compromise must be found to allow factories to continue working, not on production, but recycling or disposal, and on environmental safety.

In conclusion, the problem of contamination with polyethylene bags, despite various prejudices, does indeed matter. For the majority of people this problem is not visible, as the main action scene is underwater, but through food chains plastic will get to people. Even today, marine animals and plants are already exposed to micro plastics, so present generations should take care of this problem for the next generations.

References

Avio, C. G., Gorbi, S., & Regoli, F. (2017). Plastics and microplastics in the oceans: From emerging pollutants to emerged threat. Marine Environmental Research, 128(1), 2-11. Web.

Critchell, K., Hamann, M., Wildermann, N., & Grech, A. (2019). Predicting the exposure of coastal species to plastic pollution in a complex island archipelago. Environmental Pollution, 252(B), 982-991. Web.

Cressey, D. (2016). The plastic ocean. Nature, 536(7616), 263-265. Web.

Garello, R., Plag, H. P., Shapiro, A., Martinez, S., Pearlman, J., & Pendleton, L. (Eds.). (2019). Proceedings of the Ocean 2019 conference. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Henry, T., & Catarino, A. (2018). Independent. Web.

Lin, Z., Wang, L., Jia, Y., Zhang, Y., Dong, Q., & Huang, C. (2017). A study on environmental bisphenol a pollution in plastics industry areas. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, 228(3), 98-106. Web.

Verma, R., Vinoda, K. S., Papireddy, M., & Gowda, A. N. S. (2016). Toxic pollutants from plastic waste-a review. Procedia Environmental Sciences, 35(1), 701-708. Web.

Wang, F., Wang, F., & Zeng, E. Y. (2018). Sorption of toxic chemicals on microplastics. In E. Y. Zeng (Eds.), Microplastic contamination in aquatic environments (pp. 225-247). Elsevier.

(n.d.). ReuseThisBag. Web.

Williams, S. T. (2017). Plastics: the trophic transfer of microplastics in the marine food web. Web.

Wójcik-Fudalewska, D., Normant-Saremba, M., & Anastácio, P. (2016). Occurrence of plastic debris in the stomach of the invasive crab Eriocheir sinensis. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 113(1-2), 306-311. Web.

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