Effects of Plastic on Wildlife
Plastic waste is hurting our planet—and at a drastic rate too. Only 9% of the world’s plastic is properly recycled. In fact, plastic pollution has skyrocketed from 2 million metric tons in 1950 to 380 million metric tons in 2015. IF WE CHANGE NOTHING, ocean plastics will outweigh fish by 2050, or even sooner. And yet, single-use plastics are one of the biggest culprits, where this makes up a mere 50% of plastics. While yes, single-use can seem to make our lives easy and convenient in the short run, but it drastically hurts us, our planet, and the environment in the long-run.
A single plastic bag has an average use time of about 15 minutes…but plastic never truly decomposes, and for it to completely break down can take hundreds of years for that single plastic bag (that you could have avoided by bringing your own totes when you are on the go!). And did you know that half of ALL plastics that have been manufactured have been made in the past 15 years? If only we could reverse this and apply it to decomposing plastic…. In addition, plastic often contains additives to make them stronger, more flexible, and durable. Unfortunately, this tends to extend the life of the products and it could take hundreds of more years for that single plastic to completely break down. Plastics operate in a linear economy—check out our blog post on what a more circular economy would look like and HOW we can achieve it; enter compostable packaging, refillable and reusable bottles and products and recycled products and plastics.
Sea and Marine Life
Plastics that start on land will eventually end up in the water system and then to rivers and streams and therefore oceans over time; over 50% of pollution comes from land activities and each year, over 8 million tons of plastic waste travels from our lands to our oceans. Hundreds of thousands of animals like sea turtles, fish, birds, etc. are killed each year by plastic in the ocean. Plastics are known to get tangled around creatures which can strangle and drown them. A single plastic bag has the power to strangle, suffocate or starve our wildlife; and since plastic has such a long lifetime, it will most likely kill many animals throughout its life. Bits and pieces of plastic can be found in 86% of sea turtles, 44% of seabirds and 43% of all marine life. More than 50% of sea turtles eat plastic, and plastic has been found in over half of dead sea turtles. 98% of albatrosses have ingested plastics; in turn about 40% of their babies die when fed by their parents due to plastic they are unknowingly ingesting. There have been many cases in which whales have been found dead with pounds of plastic in their stomachs.
Between Hawaii and California floats the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Basically, this is a massive trash vortex that is consistently collecting plastic pollution floating in our oceans. Today, it has accumulated over 617,000 square miles as well as 1.8 trillion bits of plastic. That is bigger than Texas, as well as 3 times the size of France (this is absolutely insane!! We need to do better).
Not only is it detrimental for animals to be inhaling and consuming plastic, but this massive patch of trash blocks plankton, algae, and other species from receiving enough or any sunlight at all.
Forest and Land Animals
While yes plastics highly affect our oceans and our marine life, but it has a massive impact on land animals as well. In fact, land animals are equally as inclined to suffer when they encounter plastic garbage as sea animals. Many land animals are being found with plastics in their stomachs—a mere cause of death for many. So why is our wildlife consuming plastic? To be frank, animals struggle to distinguish plastic from ingestible, edible items. Since much of the plastic used is from food packaging and storage, it tends to carry the odor of edible materials, causing animals to mistake the trash and waste for food. Because of pure curiosity and hunger, wild animals are drawn to plastics thinking it’s a delicious snack. But plastic can kill in many ways. First of all, it can be sharp and jagged, raising the risk of getting stuck or impaling anything that ingests it. In addition, plastic is not a nutrient source in anyway, so it tends to pile up in the stomach, while can lead animals to suffer from starvation, suffocation, dehydration, and in many cases, unfortunately, death. Each year, over a million birds and hundreds of thousands of marine and land animals die from plastic pollution.
We all know about plastic, but what exactly are microplastics? Over time, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics. And since it can take up to hundreds of years for a single plastic bottle to decompose, eventually the plastic used daily will all break down into microplastics with time. In general, microplastics can be identified as particles of plastic measuring less than 5 millimeters or smaller than the size of a thumbtack. At this point, over 90% of the world’s plastics are microplastics. They can be found in our drinking water systems and floating through our air. Not only that, microplastics have been found to have blocked digestive tracts punctured through organs of not only animals, but us humans as well.
Remember: YOU CAN make a difference! Making simple swaps in your everyday routine and encouraging other to do the same is a GREAT start.
- Reduce the amount of plastic you use in general—pay attention to and avoid plastic packaging and single-use plastics
- Reduce single-use plastics and products and opt for more reusable and sustainable products
- It isn’t always possible to eliminate plastic completely, instead try to be conscious about how you dispose of it
- Use a reusable water bottle on the daily basis—no need to buy single-use water bottles, majority of public places have a water fountain or place to refill your water bottles
- No more plastic straws—or straws in general!! If you can’t avoid it, opt for reusable straws
- Bring your own reusable bags when you are on the go—you never know when you might need one AND it can be easy to just leave a bag or two in your car because we all know forgetfulness is a big culprit to single-use.
- Opt for plastic-free food storage solutions like our reusable food wraps or stainless steel or glass containers
- Instead of purchasing products in plastic bottles, opt for package-less products or products packaged in reusable materials
DID YOU KNOW???
1 reusable water bottle saves 167 plastic water bottles
1 reusable bag saves 170 plastic bags
1 reusable cup saves 500 single-use cups
1 metal/glass straw saves 540 plastic straws
1 cloth towel saves 7,300 paper towels
One Not-So-Fun Fact:
- One garbage truck of plastic is discarded into our oceans every minute; think of how much plastic has been dumped in the time you have taken to read through this blog.