In order to understand plastic pollution in the ocean it is important to know the history behind plastic and the special interests that influence the industry. This petro-based material started reaching the height of use after the war, and when the introduction of varied colors of plastics hit the market. This ability to create multicolored plastic lead the the introduction of Tupperware. The oil industry not only had a lock on oil and gas but now household items for everyday use as well as one-time use. We have evolved from using plastic for military and household containers to pop bottles, straws, diapers, cups, plates, almost anything you can think of is made of different types of polymers. Because of this fast-food mentality, when it comes to plastic use, we have begun be enveloped by our one-time use trash that has always meant to be used long term. Old toys and disposable object not only end up on opposite sides other the world they also break down into micro-plastics. These plastics cause an infinite amount of problems on their own.
As microplastics float on top of the ocean and disperse, they are then eaten by marine animals, and the toxins that are stored within the plastic are then are housed in the bodies of the animals. After being eaten, these pollutants enter into the food chain and eventually make their way to our bodies. On the other hand, as long as plastics degrade in ocean, it would exist everywhere and easily leach nutrition away from marine animals which could cause the balance of the hydrosphere ecosystem. Basically, the most direct influence made by microplastic is the damage done to marine organisms. However, whenever it hurts oceanic systems, it tends to hurt our health or even our economy (less fishing and ocean product).
Plastics do not biodegrade, instead they break down into tiny pieces which are then consumed by fish and other sea mammals who mistake these bits of plastic as food. Every year plastic is responsible for killing over 100,000 sea turtles and birds. The chemicals present in plastic are released into the water and the atmosphere. As a result fish are contaminated from the chemicals found in the water. There is a direct correlation between plastic chemicals and how they have entered the food chain. Plastics not only impact the ocean but they also act like sponges, soaking up toxins from outside sources prior to entering the ocean. As the animals in the ocean ingest these chemicals, and we ingest these animals, it does not have a positive impact on human health (Andrews, 2017).
Plastics pose a threat to human health in numerous forms. One of them being direct toxicity, which is from lead, cadmium, and mercury. These toxins have been discovered in a large amount of the fish in the ocean which is hazardous for humans. Another form is Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), which is found in some plastics and is a toxic carcinogen. Many other toxins found in plastics have also been discovered to have a direct link to cancer, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues. BPA or health-bisphenol-A is another toxin present in plastic and is of large concern for human health. BPA is a basic building block of polycarbonate plastics. It has multiple uses such as food packaging or water bottles. Over a period of time, it’s bonds can break down, like when the plastic is being repeatedly washed or is exposed to other stressors like heat. Which then allows entrance of this toxin into the human body by means of drinking contaminated water or consuming a fish that has been exposed to the broken-down toxins. BPA is a chemical that is known for implicating human and mammal hormonal functions (Andrews, 2017)
According to the UNEP, microplastics are pieces of plastic ranging in size from 5mm to nano proportions and are considered to be an essential piece of the planet’s marine litter issue. There are primary and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are plastics that can be found in personal care and cosmetics products, as well as pre-production plastic resin pellets. Secondary microplastics are made when larger pieces of plastic items break down into smaller pieces, which are then easily ingested by fish, mussels, or any other sea creatures. Additionally, there is a growing body of scientific evidence linking microplastics to the passage of chemicals like the pesticide DDT and toxic PCBs, which makes them more concentrated and toxic when coming in contact with marine animals. Research also has determined that microplastics in the ocean are nearly everywhere, present on ocean surfaces, close to river mouths, coasts, and have even managed to find their way in deep-sea sediments (UNEP). The pollution of these tiny pieces of plastic are so widespread that serious action must be taken out to eradicating the problem source and minimizing any further damage to both human health and to the ecosystems.
Andrews, Gianna. “Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health.” Case Studies. N.p., 14 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.
“Plastic and Microplastics in Our Oceans – A Serious Environmental Threat #UNEnvironment.” UNEP. N.p., 19 May 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.