WATER: Plastic pollution in the sea

Teacher Background

Plastic Pollution and the Sea

Plastic makes life really convenient. We can pour drinks into disposable plastic cups at a birthday party and the cups won’t disintegrate in the hands of the guests. We can stow wet swimsuits from the beach in a plastic bag and they won’t leak water on us. We can carry heavy items in a plastic shopping bag and the plastic won’t tear. It’s very convenient.

But sadly it’s these same properties of strength and durability that make plastic material so toxic and dangerous for nature. Plastic is man-made from oil and it doesn’t belong in our ecosystem.Nothing can eat it so when you throw it into the garbage it never goes away. No matter how small the particles, plastic can never be fully digested by the earth. Plastic is forever. It has already invaded the food chain and plastic can now be found inside almost every one of us.

But what about recycling?

Unfortunately, reclaiming and recycling plastic is energy intensive and costly, which is why only an estimated two percent of all plastic in use is ever recycled back to its original form. Plastic is unbelievably cheap to produce and very light weight so cheap to transport around in large amounts. So it is simply cheaper to buy new plastic and toss the used plastic waste into landfill. But plastic loaded into landfill becomes what is known as leakage, which makes its way into underground water systems and eventually into the sea. A new report released at the World Economic Forum in 2016 predicts that by 2050, the world’s oceans will contain a greater amount of plastic trash (by weight) than fish. Plastic is changing our environment in ways that threaten our wellbeing and the long-term health of our planet – and 2050 is closer than we think.

What about paper?

Should we switch to paper cups for our birthday parties and choose paper shopping bags instead of plastic at the supermarket? Paper is biodegradable and can easily be broken down by the earth without causing harm. But paper isn’t perfect either. The problem with paper is that we have to chop down trees to make it. Trees give us oxygen that we need to breathe and they give homes to animals so we don’t want to chop too many down unnecessarily. Also, we need to burn a lot of oil and gas to make paper and to transport it from place to place because paper is much heavier than plastic.

What about stainless steel or cloth?

Unlike plastic, which never fully degrades and cannot effectively be recycled, stainless steel is 100% recyclable with no loss of quality. It is also clean, safe and hard wearing. Stainless steel does still need energy for production and transportation, which usually means burning fossil fuel, but on the plus side, stainless cups and stainless steel straws can be used over and over again. The case for cloth bags versus paper or plastic is similar. A bag made from non-toxic fabric requires energy to make but it is still the best choice because it is reusable. And if it ever gets lost or thrown away it can be broken down by the earth.

The 4 R’s – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Refusing single use plastic, reducing the amount of waste we have by reusing and recycling means using less of the earth’s natural resources to make more. That means less greenhouse gas emissions and less carbon in the air.

So the 4 R’s equal Carbon Busting!