Plastic has become a staple of modern life, but its journey from land to sea has devastated marine wildlife and ocean ecosystems. The amount of plastic waste entering our oceans every year is alarming. It has destroyed coral reefs, the entanglement of wildlife, and the proliferation of toxic chemicals. As we continue to use more plastic products, it's important to understand how this material makes its way from land to sea and why its effects are so destructive. This blog post will explore the journey of plastic from production to disposal and its environmental impact.
How is plastic made?
Every year, 400 tons of plastic is manufactured. Plastic is manufactured through a process known as polymerization. This process begins with monomer chemicals typically made from fossil fuels such as petroleum or natural gas. The monomers are heated in a reaction vessel and mixed with catalysts, which help speed up the process, and sometimes other ingredients to give the plastic certain properties or colors. During this production stage, the monomers begin to form long chains of atoms called polymers.
The polymers become molten and can be molded into various shapes and sizes depending on the desired end product. Common methods of molding plastics include injection molding, extrusion molding, blow molding, or compression molding. Depending on the manufacturing facility and type of plastic being produced, these processes can involve a wide range of machines, from mixing different ingredients to injecting hot plastic into molds.
Once the plastic has been molded, it needs to cool down to keep its shape. The cooling process varies depending on the type of plastic being made but generally includes forcing air over the molded product or dipping it into cold water or an icy bath to cool it down. Once cooled down, the plastic is ready for use and can be used in many applications ranging from packaging materials to automotive components.
How does plastic make its way to the ocean?
Travels From Inland Sources To The Ocean
Plastic pollution is not only a problem of the ocean. Land-based sources are responsible for 70-80% of plastic entering our oceans yearly through rivers and coastlines. Plastic waste can be transported to rivers and other bodies of water by stormwater runoff, wind, rain, illegal dumping, and even animals that mistake it for food.
As winds blow, they pick up small pieces of plastic, such as bottle caps, straws, and packaging materials, which are then deposited into nearby bodies of water such as lakes and oceans. Similarly, rainfall carries debris (including plastic waste) from roads, parking lots, streets, fields, construction sites, and other urban areas down to storm drains, eventually leading to rivers connected to oceans.
Plastic can make it to our oceans through accidental or intentional dumping directly into the bodies of water. Plastic may be accidentally lost or discarded from boats, vessels, and other types of marine transport. Individuals along the shoreline or rivers running into the ocean can also dispose of it. Additionally, plastic waste may enter the ocean through landfills and rivers that lead to it.
From Boats and Ships
Another way for plastic to enter the ocean is from marine activities such as fishing and shipping. In addition to this, plastics from recreational activities such as boating can also make their way into the ocean. Fishing gear and other materials are often left in the water or lost during storms, adding to marine debris.
Finally, plastic pollution originates from offshore oil and gas platforms and vessels that use plastic products and packaging on board. These products often end up in the sea after being thrown overboard or lost during bad weather conditions.
The Impacts of Plastic Pollution
Plastic is a pervasive problem in the ocean that has a major detrimental effect on marine health. Plastic flows from rivers and other waterways into the ocean, often through storm drains or sewage outlets. Once in the water, plastic breaks apart and then persists for centuries, posing a dangerous threat to aquatic life. Fish mistake small pieces of plastic for food, and this can cause them to starve or become ill from ingesting toxic chemicals. In addition, larger pieces of plastic can entangle animals like sea turtles, seals, and birds, leading to suffocation or drowning.
Plastic pollution also has serious consequences for human health. With rising levels of plastic in the oceans comes an increase in microplastics entering food chains through fish and other organisms. These microplastics can contain toxins such as phthalates, which have been linked to endocrine disruption. Additionally, certain plastics contain hormone disruptors like bisphenol A (BPA), which have been associated with numerous adverse health issues, including cancer, diabetes, obesity, fertility issues, and more.
Plastic also decomposes slowly over time when exposed to sunlight and saltwater in oceans or seas. This slow breakdown process results in the formation of microplastic, which is ingested by fish and other aquatic organisms living in these waters - ultimately ending up back in our food chain with potentially severe health consequences for humans.
Together, we can fight plastic pollution.
It is essential to take action to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans. We must work together and become conscious of the products we buy, how much we use them, and whether they are reusable or not. The Melomys "Keep The Sea Plastic Free" t-shirt is a great way to help make a statement for change. This stylish t-shirt supports a good cause, and 5 trees are planted for every shirt purchased! Together, we can all make a difference in the fight against ocean-bound plastic pollution.