Consumerism and waste: Effects of Plastic Pollution on Aquatic Ecosystem

Over the years, our environment has experienced massive changes due to the advancement of technology and industrialization. These changes are making our environment vulnerable to disasters and tragedies that include an enormous influx of natural disasters, unpredictable weather patterns, increased warming and cooling effects, thereby disrupting the livelihoods of individuals globally. Some ecological concerns that environmental scientists have been dealing with include pollution, global warming, and waste disposal, natural resource depletion, overpopulation, deforestation, and ocean acidification, loss of diversity, and reduction of the Ozone layer (Smith, 2013).

With the mass production experienced in our industries to meet customers’ demand, enterprises have been prioritizing more on the output with little concern on how the waste products from these industries are affecting our environment (Mathis, 2015). For instance, the demand for products made from plastic has been on the rise globally due to their cheap cost and availability. Billions of plastic containers are produced annually, but the companies and users do not take into consideration the effect such mass production has on the environment. Plastic is known to be among the non-biodegradable materials and takes over 500 years to decompose. In many cases, consumers prefer to dispose of plastic products after use but the process of disposal is inappropriate. These materials end up polluting our surroundings and making them look unattractive. Besides, surface runoff sometimes carries these plastics and drains them into the rivers, and eventually end up in the ocean. According to researchers, there are about 12 billion metric tons of plastics lying in our oceans. This depicts a high level of pollution, and due to this reason, the media, environmental professionals, and organizations that deal with conservation of our environment have been trying to analyze the situations, sensitize the societies and control the sources of these pollutants to reduce this menace. One of the media programs that have been trying to educate the world on the effect of reduced disposal of plastic containers is “A Plastic Tide.”

“A Plastic Tide” Documentary

“A Plastic Tide” is a documentary prepared by Sky News Ocean Rescue Campaign science correspondent, Thomas Moore and aims at exploring the serious plastic problem of plastic pollution in our oceans (Sky News Ocean Rescue campaign, 2017). This documentary was prepared with the aim of studying plastic pollution currently evidenced in our oceans, sources, and effects of these plastics, and finally to try to establish the severity of this problem to the environment as well as provide a viewpoint on how we can clean up this menace. The film uses three different environmental locations where the effect of plastic pollution has already been felt. These are city beach in Mumbai, India, city sewer system in London and a case study in the Netherlands. According to Moore, plastic pollution has made life in the ocean to turn into synthetic soup. This is due to the lack of a proper solution to recycling and biodegradability of plastic products, therefore, leading to their spread into the oceans caused by the flow of ocean currents and waterways. A practical example is found in Arrochar, a small harbor located in Scotland which receives a lot of garbage and waste on its beaches transported through ocean currents from countries such as Australia and Japan (Martinko, 2017).

The documentary starts with analyzing a city beach situation in Mumbai, India. According to Moore, this beach was initially used for playing and swimming, but due to the deposition of plastic garbage along with it, these activities are no more carried here. The exciting part of this analysis is that this plastic garbage originated from other places and got dumped here by ocean tides. This is the case every day, and the trash arises from any part of the world. Observing a toothbrush being taken out from the stomach of an albatross worsens the situation. Similarly, divers attempt to save a turtle trapped in a fishing net is made difficult due to bottles and other deposits floating on the reef. The regular disposal of litter daily means that this beach will continue to be covered with this litter as long as the dumping of plastics into the ocean remains. “A Plastic Tide” maker and persona follows the trail of plastic into the sea, to plastic manufacturing factories in the world, and provides a good argument with the plastic activists, plant managers, and various business people who recycle plastic for profit. Moore conducts the second case study in London, within a city sewer system. This sewer contains a variety of plastic waste comprising sanitary products, syringes, and omnipresent wet wipes which cause vital blockages in this system. The effluents from this sewer, that contains even plastics, are flushed into Thames River after treatment and carried away to larger water bodies. “A Plastic Tide” provides the actual footage of the garbage patches and therefore enlightens people to see the real footage of the litter (Gregory, 2009). During the plastic manufacture process, beads are the first product in the manufacturing stages before they are converted into any other product. Releasing these micro-plastics into the water bodies is harmful since they may cause death to marine animals after being fed due to their toxicity. An autopsy carried on dead birds by Dr. Jan Van Fragenen in the Netherlands shows plastic beads present, and there is evidence that there are many thousands more chemicals in each nurdle found inside the dead bird (Martinko, 2017). Despite there being proved of death cases due to plastic pollutions, bodies concerned with environmental protection have not implemented controls to successfully control the disposal of the plastic garbage into the water bodies. Similarly, there are insignificant achievements from the measures taken by recycling plants since a large percentage of this garbage end up in the oceans.

The most devastating effect of pollution in the marine environment is ingestion by aquatic animals. In the documentary, Fragenen removes 18 pieces of plastics from the stomach of a small fulmar that had died from plastic ingestion. This seabird may have consumed these plastics due to starvation. Other impacts likely to occur to living things alongside those caused by plastics arise from chemicals which are used together with the plastic products. There are quite many chemicals produced by plastic waste ranging from Biphenyl A, flame retardants, and phthalates. These chemicals are known to cause animal and human problems mainly to the endocrine systems. Other chemicals associated with plastics, e.g., toxic monomers have been linked to causing cancer and reproductive issues (Hengstler, 2011). Despite all these problems, the documentary attempts to provide various viewpoints by activist Afroz Shah that can be helpful during the beach cleanup processes to reduce the menace and health problems depicted above. Compared to other environmental documentaries that are limited to a particular niche interest, “A Plastic Tide” seems to differ in its coverage since it provides an elaborative analysis representing effects of the global problem of plastic pollution, especially those experienced on the oceans and its inhabitants, in human population and finally in avian wildlife. Moore explains that the question of plastic pollution is not limited to developing countries, but also the already established nations. This film provides exclusive coverage and demonstrates how control of plastic pollution is essential to every individual. Among its primary emphasizes is that we shouldn’t start blaming each other because of the menace, but we should preferably employ a more pragmatic approach to come up with solutions.

Plastic manufactures give a notion that plastic is everywhere, from polyester to microwaveable Tupperware, therefore drowning humans in every part of the world to plastic. This is the reason that this film tries to create sensitization on the effect of the unlimited use of plastic products. Due to the critical analysis employed in “A Plastic Tide,” several individuals and organizations have tried to offer their views and responses to the issues explained by Moore. An example is Barry Turner, Director of BPF’s Plastics and Flexible Packaging Group, on January 24th, when he took part in a debate to discuss the contents of this documentary (Carlon, 2017). During the televised debate, he acknowledged that the use of plastics by retailers is more popular since they are easily acquired and cheap to produce. In his statement, he said that although recycling of plastics has gained ground, a lot needs to be done to comprehensively collect all plastic wastes previously used and recycle them. Turner was trying to expound on what this documentary has been trying to emphasize; recycling of plastics. The bottom lying protection will be useful in gathering and reusing the suspended plastic. This is the only way we can successfully reduce plastics polluting our environment globally (Smith, 2013).

Reducing Plastic Pollution

The main reason why we have a lot of plastics lying in our environment is that consumers barely reuse them. On the other hand, the cost of producing plastic products is low, therefore, companies prefer to manufacture new products rather than go round collecting the disposed plastics for recycling. With the increasing concerns about plastic pollution, plastic manufacturers require reviewing their production process and emphasize more on recycling rather than making new products. This will assist in reducing the cases of dumping as well as make use of plastics polluting our oceans. Alternatively, we can shift and start using reusable bags to help in keeping the plastic out of the landfill (Vegter, 2014).

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Alternative Ways of Using Plastic

Recycling

As shown above, recycling is one of the means of reducing pollution. When recycling is done, it should be done in a manner that does not pollute the environment. The process of recycling should also economical and energy conserving. Recycling can produce similar products or lead to the production of entirely different products (Vegter, 2014). Similarly, we can generate chemical fuels from recycled plastic.

Polymer coated Bitumen Road

When Polymer coating is used on roads, there is an improved impact on the streets. An example is In Los Angeles, where they coated bitumen with polymers to provide good skid resistance as well as improve quality for the stability of roads. The road stretches which used plastic were found to be equally strong as the ones made using bitumen (Yadav & Chandrakar, 2017). Plastic Tar roads are resistant to potholes development, raveling, and edge flow since polymer coated bitumen mix perform better than pure bitumen or modified bitumen. Besides, higher polymer coating improves the binding strength of the bitumen gravel mix. Therefore, plastics could be used on the roads (Yadav & Chandrakar, 2017).

Plasma Pyrolysis Technology

This is a technology that integrates the pyrolysis process with thermochemical properties. The intense heat generated can be used in disposing of off all plastic wastes hence reducing pollution. In this process, the plastic scraps are put in a chamber at 8000C using a feeder (Global Industry Analysts, 2011). In the chamber, the site material comprises methane, hydrocarbons, and hydrogen. Through another chamber, the gases produced are burned in the presence of oxygen, and they are safely converted into oxygen and air. The efficiency of the process is 99% (Global Industry Analysts, 2011).

Converting Plastic Waste into Liquid Fuel

This process uses the de-polymerization of plastic waste, which in the presence of a catalyst, changes the residue to liquid fuel. The process is dry and has no emissions. The process has a success rate of 20%.

Conclusion

Preventing plastic pollution would be better and economical than finding a strategy to clean this menace afterward. This means that putting the right interventions that aim at recycling and reusing plastic materials would ensure that there is less dumping of materials into our environment. One way to efficiently achieve this is by enacting stiff regulations for companies manufacturing plastics against the production of new products. This would force them to recycle the plastics polluting our environment. Similarly, policies that control pollution of our ecosystems should be implemented with strictness and monitored regularly. Besides, harmonization of the current monitoring techniques will ensure that the debris, in general, is dealt with thoroughly. Lastly, all entities responsible for environmental pollution control should organize regular sensitization and awareness programs to the consumers and society.

 

References

Carlon, J. (2017, January 26). BPF responds to Sky’s ‘A Plastic Tide’ documentary. BRITISH PLASTICS & RUBBER.

Global Industry Analysts. (2011). Molded plastics: A global strategic business report. Global Industry Analysts Inc.

Gregory, M. (2009). Environmental implications of plastic debris in marine settings – entanglement, ingestion, smothering, hangers-on, hitch-hiking and alien invasions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.364, 2013-2025.

Hengstler, J. F. (2011). Critical evaluation of key evidence on the human health hazards of exposure to bisphenol A. Critical Review of Toxicology, 41(4), 263-291.

Martinko, K. (2017, January 26). “A Plastic Tide” film depicts shocking plastic pollution worldwide. Aucun.

Mathis, M. (2015). Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) purpose, process and pitfalls. Retrieved from Project Smart Web site: https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/work-breakdown-structure-purpose-process-pitfalls.php

Sky News Ocean Rescue Campaign. (2017). “A Plastic Tide” film depicts shocking plastic pollution worldwide. Sky News.

Smith, K. (2013). Environmental hazards: Assessing risk and reducing disaster. Routledge.

Vegter, A. C. (2014). Global research priorities to mitigate plastic pollution impacts on marine wildlife. Endangered Species Research, 25(3), 225-247.

Yadav, A. & Chandrakar, R. (2017). Construction of plastic roads. An effective way to utilize wastes. International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology (IRJET) e-ISSN, 2395-0056.

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