Read this essay to learn about plastic pollution. After reading this essay you will learn about: 1. Introduction to Plastic Pollution 2. Causes of Plastic Pollution 3. Effects 4. Control.
Essay # 1. Introduction to Plastic Pollution:
In the last decade, plastic has affected the health and life of human beings very badly. Some incidents have attracted the attention of the whole world and put a question mark about the use of plastic in daily life.
Plastic, the wonder material that we use for everything and which pollutes our environment, is perhaps the most harmful of trash dumped by mariners and sea-goers in sea because it does not readily break down in nature. In-fact, the plastic that goes over the side today may still be around in hundreds of years to foul up the fishing gear, boat propellers, and beaches of future generations.
Careless disposal of plastic can have dire consequences. A plastic bag looks like a tasty jellyfish to an indiscriminate feeder like the sea turtle, but plastic is indigestible. It can choke, block the intestines of, or cause infection in those animals that consume it.
A plastic bag can also clog an outboard engine’s cooling system. Lost or discarded monofilament fishing line can foul propellers, destroying oil seals and lower units of engines, or it can become an entangling web for fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.
According to the Centre for Marine Conservation, over 25,000 pieces of fishing line were collected from U.S. beaches during the 1996 annual beach clean-up and at least 40% of all animal entanglements reported during the clean-ups involved fishing line.
Every day, more and more plastic is accumulating in our oceans. Recreational boaters are not the only group that improperly disposes off plastic refuse at sea. Plastics also enter the marine environment from sewage outfalls, merchant shipping, commercial fishing operations, and beachgoers.
In the middle stage, it is very flexible and can be given any shape depending on temperature and pressure. In practices, urea, formaldehyde, poly ethylene, polystyrene, polycithylcholide, phenoloic compounds and other substances are used in the preparation of plastics pollution.
Now-a-days the most popular plastic pollution is caused is polyvinyl chloride (P.V.C.). When any food material or blood is stored in the said plastic containers then gradually the soluble chemical gets dissolved in them causing death due to cancer and other skin diseases.
Polyvinyl chloride has also been found to destroy the fertility of the animals and their respiratory systems. When mixed with water, it causes paralysis and also damages bones and causes irritation to the skin.
Recently U.S.A. has banned the use of P.V.C. plastic in space apparatus and in food containers (as chemicals get dissolved in the food). India should immediately ban the use of P.V.C. in water pipes, food and medicine containers to save the lives of millions who are already suffering from different types of ailments.
Essay # 2. Causes of Plastic Pollution:
Plastics are used because these are easy and cheap to make and they can last a long time. Unfortunately these very useful qualities make plastic a huge pollution problem. Because the plastic is cheap it gets discarded easily and its persistence in the environment can do great harm. Unbanization has added to the plastic pollution in concentrated form in cities.
Plastic thrown on land can enter the drainage lines and choke them resulting into floods in local areas in cities as was experienced in Mumbai, India in 1998. It was claimed in one of the programmes on TV channel that eating plastic bags results in death of 100 cattle per day in U.P. in India.
In stomach of one dead cow, as much as 35 kg of plastic was found. Because plastic does not decompose, and requires high energy ultra-violet light to break down, the amount of plastic waste in our oceans is streadily increasing.
More than 90% of the articles found on the sea beaches contained plastic. The plastic rubbish found on beaches near urban areas tends to originate from use on land, such as packaging material used to wrap around other goods.
On remote rural beaches the rubbish tends to have come from ships, such as fishing equipment used in the fishing industry. This plastic can affect marine wildlife in two important ways: by entangling creatures, and by being eaten.
Turtles are particularly badly affected by plastic pollution, and all seven of the world’s turtle species are already either endangered or threatened for a number of reasons. Turtles get entagled in fishing nets, and many sea turtles have been found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs. Turtles mistake floating transparent plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them.
In one dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific more than 1000 pieces of plastic were found in its stomach. A recent US report concluded that more than 100000 marine mammals die every year in the world’s oceans by eating or getting entangled in plastic rubbish, and the position is worsening world-wide, 75 marine bird species are known to eat plastic articles. This includes 36 species found off South Africa.
A recent study of blue petrel chicks on South Africa’s remote Marine Island showed that 90% of chicks examined had plastic in their stomachs apparently fed to them accidentally by their parents. South African seabirds are among the worst affected in the world. Plastics may remain in the stomach, blocking digestion and possibly causing starvation.
Essay # 3. Effects of Plastic Pollution:
Since the development of plastic earlier this century, it has become a popular material used in a wide variety of ways. Today plastic is used to make, or wrap around, many of the items we buy or use. The problem arises when we no longer want these items and we have to dispose off them, particularly the throwaway plastic material used in wrapping or packaging.
Plastics are used because they are easy and cheap to make and they can last a long time. Unfortunately these same useful qualities can make plastic a huge pollution problem. The cheapness means plastic gets discarded easily and its long life means it survives in the environment for long periods where it can do great harm.
Because plastic does not decompose, and requires high energy ultraviolet light to break down, the amount of plastic waste in our oceans is steadily increasing.
The plastic rubbish found on beaches near urban areas tends to originate from use on land, such as packaging material used to wrap around other goods. On remote rural beaches the rubbish tends to have come from ships, such as fishing equipment used in the fishing industry.
i. Effect on Ocean Wildlife:
This plastic can affect marine wildlife in two important ways; by entangling creatures, and by being swallowed.
The bodies of almost all marine species, ranging in size from plankton to marine mammals, and including some of the wildest and most vulnerable species on the planet – animals that make nearly their entire living far from human beings – now contain plastic.
Sixty per-cent of 6,136 surface plankton net tows conducted in the Western North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea from 1986 to 2008 contained buoyant plastic pieces, typically millimetre in size.
Plastics turn up in bird nests, are worn by hermit crabs instead of shells, and are present in sea turtle, whale and albatross stomachs. Over 260 species, including invertebrates, turtles, fish, seabirds and mammals, have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, resulting in impaired movement and feeding, reduced reproductive output, lacerations, ulcers, and finally death.
Ingestion of plastic items occurs much more frequently than entanglement. At sea, plastic bags may often be mistaken for jellyfish, whilst on shorelines seabirds have been seen to pick up plastic items the same way they pick up cuttlefish bones. In the North Sea, almost all Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) contain some plastic.
Microscopic fragments, in some locations outweighing surface zooplankton, revealed a significant increase in abundance when samples from the 1960s and 1970s were compared with those of 1980s and 1990s. When ingested, such small particles can also be carried from the gut into other body tissues.
Ingestion of plastic can lead to wounds (internal and external); impairment of feeding capacity; blockage of digestive tract followed by satiation and starvation; and general debilitation often leading to death.
Plasticizers and organic contaminants they typically sorb and concentrate on plastics at levels far superior to the surrounding marine environment have been shown to affect both development and reproduction in a wide range of marine organisms.
Molluscs and crustaceans appear to be particularly sensitive to these compounds. Being an important food item for many species, plastics ingested by invertebrates then have the potential to transfer toxic substances up the food chain. The mechanism by which ingestion leads to illness and death can often only be surmised because the animals at sea are unobserved or are found dead ashore.
Once fouled with marine life or sediment, plastic items sink to the seafloor contaminating the sea bed. Deployment of a remotely operated vehicle submarine in the Fram Strait (Arctic) revealed 0.2 to 0.9 pieces of plastic per km at Hausgarten (2,500 m).
On dives between 5,500 and 6,770 m, 15 items of debris were observed, of which 13 were plastic. The presence of plastic at shallow and greater depths may harm sediment wildlife such as worms, sessile filter feeders, deposit feeders and detritivores, all known to accidentally ingest plastics.
The hard surface of pelagic plastics also provides an attractive and alternate substrate to natural floating debris (e.g., seeds, pumice, and wood) for a number of opportunistic colonizers. The increasing availability of these synthetic and non-biodegradable materials in marine debris may increase the dispersal and prospects for invasion by non-indigenous species.
ii. Plastic Pollution and Turtles:
Turtles are particularly badly affected by plastic pollution, and all seven of the world’s turtle species are already either endangered or threatened for a number of reasons. Turtles get entangled in fishing nets, and many sea turtles have been found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs.
It is believed that they mistake these floating semi-transparent bags for jellyfish and eat them. The turtles die from choking or from being unable to eat. One dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific was found to have more than 100 pieces of plastic in its stomach including part of a comb, a toy truck wheel and nylon rope.
All sea turtle species are particularly prone and may be seriously harmed by ‘feeding on’ anthropogenic marine debris, particularly plastics. Of particular concern is floating plastic bags that might be mistaken for jellyfish, and discarded fishing gear in which sea turtles get entangled, or pieces of which they ingest.
Laboratory experiments demonstrated that green and loggerhead turtles actively target and consume plastics whether it is small pieces intermixed with food items, or single 1 to 10 cm2 sheets. Sub lethal impacts of plastics on sea turtles can be substantial, yet mortality resulting from interactions with plastic debris is much more difficult to quantify.
Plastic ingestion by sea turtles is a relatively common occurrence, albeit often in small quantities. However, even in small quantities, plastics can kill sea turtles due to obstruction of the oesophagus or perforation of the bowel for example.
Relief of gastrointestinal (GI) obstruction of a green turtle off Melbourne beach, Florida, resulted in the animal defecting 74 foreign objects over a period of a month, including four types of latex balloons, five different types of strings, nine different types of soft plastic, four different types of hard plastic, a piece of carpet-like material, and 2 to 4 mm tar balls.
Fishing line can be particularly dangerous, when, during normal intestinal function, different parts of the digestive tract pull at different ends of the line. This can result in the gut gathering along the length of the line. This can result in the gut gathering along the length of the line preventing digesta from passing through the tract.
Plastic ingestion may also indirectly lead to death of an animal through nutrient dilution, i.e., plastic pieces displacing food in the gut (and reducing the surface available for absorption).
Typical consequences include decreased growth rate, longer developmental periods at sizes most vulnerable to predation, depleted energy reserves, and lower reproductive output and survivorship of animals. The latter is likely to be an important threat to smaller individuals with a lower ability to increase intake to meet their energetic requirements than larger animals.
Young pelagic sea turtles typically associate with “floating islands” of drifting seaweeds such as Sargassum. Floating plastics, tar from terrestrial and oceanic (ship) sources and lost fishing gear are drawn by advection into the same drift lines.
As young sea turtles indiscriminately feed on pelagic material, large occurrence of plastic is common in the digestive tract of these small sea turtles, often resulting their mortality.
As plastics can accumulate in multiple segments of the gut, stomach lavages underestimate the incidence of ingestion.
iii. Marine Mammals:
There is great concern about the effect of plastic rubbish on marine mammals in particular, because many of these creatures are already under threat of extinction for a variety of other reasons e.g. whale population has been decimated by uncontrolled hunting.
A recent US report concluded that 100000 marine mammals die every year in the world’s oceans by eating or becoming entangled in plastic rubbish, and the position is worsening.
When a marine mammal such as a Cape fur seal gets caught up in a large piece of plastic, it may simply drown, or get exhausted and die of starvation due to the greater effort needed to swim, or the plastic may kill slowly over a period of months or years as it bites into the animal causing wounds, loss of blood and/or severing of limbs.
iv. “Ghost Nets”:
A large number of marine creatures become trapped and killed in “ghost nets”. These are pieces of gill nets which have been lost by fishing vessels. Other pieces of fishing equipment such as lobster pots may also keep trapping creatures.
v. Marine Birds:
World-wide, 75 marine bird species are known to eat plastic articles. This includes 36 species found off South Africa. A recent study of blue petrel chicks at South Africa’s remote Marion Island showed that 90% of chicks examined had plastic in their stomachs apparently fed to them accidently by their parents.
South African seabirds are among the worst affected in the world. Plastics may remain in the stomachs, blocking digestion and possibly causing starvation. As particular species seem to be badly affected this may be a threat to the entire population of these birds.
vi. Plastic Pollution and Elephant Seal:
Plastic’s devastating effect on marine mammals was first observed in the late 1970s, when scientists from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory concluded that plastic entanglement was killing up to 40,000 seals a year. Annually, this amounted to a four to six percent drop in seal population beginning in 1976. In 30 years, a 50% decline in Northern Fur Seals population has been reported.
These curious, playful seals would often play with fragments of plastic netting or packing straps, catching their necks in the webbing. The plastic harness can constrict the seal’s movements, killing the seal through starvation, exhaustion, or infection from deep wounds caused by the tightening material.
While diving for food, both seals and whales can get caught in translucent nets and drown. In the fall of 1982, a humpback whale tangled in 50 to 100 feet of net washed up on a Cape Cod beach. It was starving and its ribs were exposed. It died within a couple of hours.
Along Florida’s coasts, brown pelicans diving for fish sometimes dive for the bait on a fisherman’s line. Cutting the bird loose only makes the problem worse, as the pelican gets its wings and feet tangled in the line, or gets snagged onto a tree.
vii. Effect on Sea Birds:
Royal terns (Sterna maxima) are among several species of sea birds that dive from the air to the water to catch fish with their sharp beaks. A plastic bag floating at the surface would become invisible to the tern, and may even have attracted the fish in the first place.
In this photograph the tern’s bill penetrated the plastic and left the bird wearing the bag around its sneck like shroud. It causes problem to terns to dive in & catch fish. They die due to starvation.
viii. Plastic Bags Litter the Landscape:
Once they are used, most plastic bags go into landfill, or rubbish tips. Each year more and more plastic bags are ending up littering the environment. Once they become litter, plastic bags find their way into our waterways, parks, beaches, and streets. And, if they are burnt, they infuse the air with toxic fumes.
ix. Plastic Bags Kill Animals:
About 100,000 animals such as cows, dogs and penguins are killed every year due to plastic bags. Many animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food, and therefore die. And worse, the ingested plastic bag remains intact even after the death and decomposition of the animal. Thus, it lies around in the landscape where another victim may ingest it.
x. Plastic Bags are Non-Biodegradable:
And one of the worst environmental effects of plastic bags is that they are non-biodegradable. The decomposition of plastic bags takes about 1000 years.
xi. Petroleum is Required to Produce Plastic Bags:
As it is, petroleum products are diminishing and getting more expensive day by day, since we have been using this non-renewable resource increasingly. Petroleum is vital for our modern way of life. It is necessary for our energy requirements – for our factories, transport, heating, lighting, and so on.
Without viable alternate sources of energy yet on the horizon, if the supply of petroleum were to be turned off, it would lead to practically the whole world grinding to a halt. Surely, this precious resource should not be wasted on producing plastic bags, should it?
xii. Effect on Birds:
Birds like chicks are often mistakenly fed plastics by their parents, when chicks are unable to eject the plastics, which cause death of chicks – either due to starvation or choking. Bottle caps and other plastic objects are visible inside the decomposed carcases of some Laysan albatoss. The bird probably mistook the plastics for food and injested them while foraging.
xiii. Effects on Human Beings:
The quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink or bath on, and the earth in which we grow our food has an immense effect on our health. A recent US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Study found that about 93 percent of the US population has bisphenol A, a chemical that can be found in canned goods and in hard, clear plastic items (including baby bottles), in their body.
Endocrine disruptors are ubiquitous in our environment and have deep impact on our health. Endocrine distruptor chemicals (EDC’s) are added to plastic products to make them softer and easier to handle.
These EDCs are common in our environment and, when absorbed by human beings and wildlife, mimic the action of hormones and have been linked to reproductive problems in animals and human beings are known to affect fat cells.
Bisphenol A (an endocrine disruptor) is a key monomer in production of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastic, which is clear and nearly shatter-proof, is used to make a variety of common products including baby and water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices, dental composite (white) fillings and sealants and lenses.
The figure shows that as the plastic moves up in food chain, its concentration increases and when these fishes with huge amount of plastic are eaten by human cause diseases like cancer. Plastic plays the villain right from the stage of its production.
The major chemicals that go into the making of plastic are highly toxic and pose serious threat to living beings of all species on earth. Some of the constituents of plastic such as benzene are known to cause cancer. Recycling of plastic is associated with skin and respiratory problems, resulting from exposure to and inhalation of toxic fumes, especially hydrocarbons.
Thin plastics are thrown anywhere and everywhere causing the following environmental degradation problems:
i. It blocks the open sewage system and results in stagnation of sewage paving way for the mosquitoes which leads to the spread of various diseases.
ii. Plastic dumped on the soil prevents water percolation into the water table.
iii. It affects the very structure of soil.
iv. Water stagnating on the plastics strewn on the land becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes which, in turn, produce diseases.
v. Jelly fish-eating, Fishes mistaking the plastic floating in the water for Jellyfish eat them and then die their species is becoming extinct.
vi. Cattle eat plastic and die as a result thereof.
vii. Burning of plastics results in release of toxins in the atmosphere which, in turn, causes dreadly Cancer.
viii. Plastic is non-biodegradable and so the problems become perennial.
Essay # 4. Control of Plastic Pollution:
Plastic bags and bottles, like all forms of plastic, create significant environmental and economic burden. They consume growing amount of energy and other natural resources, degrading the environment in a number of ways.
In addition to using up fossil fuels and other resources, plastic products create litter, hurt marine life, and threaten the basis of life on earth. Here are some steps that we can take to reverse the tide of toxic, non-biodegradable pollution so that it may not overtake our planet.
i. Put produce in paper, canvas, and other healthy-fiber bags.
ii. If a clerk throws your box of soap into a plastic bag, ask him or her to replace it in one of your bags. Give the clerk a copy of “Why I Don’t Use Plastic Bags”. Our experience has been that they appreciate this information.
iii. Use wax paper bags, cloth napkins, or re-useable sandwich boxes (e.g., tiffins, described below).
iv. Use only glass bottles or cans.
v. Bottled water costs over 1000 times more per liter than water from your tap. Buying our most essential nutrient, water, from corporations represents an abdication of community control of the commons. If you have concerns about water safety, investigate a filter system such as Multi-Pure. Better yet, work with your water district to develop stricter standards for water purity.
vi. Pre-bagged produce not only uses wasteful packaging, but also tends to come from farther away, consuming more of our dwindling oil supplies in transport.
vii. Tiffins (stainless steel food containers) are a long tradition in India. They store food well, have longer life than Tupper Ware and its look-alikes (you’ve probably seen the fading, corroding, and chipping that occurs to these plastic containers), are more hygienic, and have a certain panache.
viii. Look for and reward earth-s friendly packaging choices, e.g.,
Buy greeting cards in paper boxes instead of clear plastic shells.
Ask you florist for flowers wrapped in paper, not clear film
Use pens that re-fill instead of land-fill.
ix. Conscious consumption is not only good for the earth, it’s good for you. “Mindfulness”, says Thick Nhat Hanh, “is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves.”
x. Support recycling schemes and promote support for one in your local area.
xi. Fishermen throughout South Africa should not throw away waste line, net or plastic litter – this causes huge suffering and many deaths.
xii. Practice and promote paper disposal of plastics in your home and at the beach. Always remember that litter generates litter. Never dispose off plastics in the sewage system.
xiii. At the beach dispose off plastics and other litter in the bins provided. If these facilities are inadequate, contact the local authority responsible for this and lodge a complaint. Take your litter back home with you if there are no receptacles on the beach. Pick up any plastic litter you may see on the beach or in rock pools in the vicinity in which you are sitting or walking. Encourage young children to do likewise.
xiv. In the street never throw plastic or other litter out of your car and do not drop it on the pavement or in the gutter.
xv. Set an example for others and encourage them to help. Plastics are not themselves a problem. They are useful and popular materials which can be produced with relatively little damage to the environment. The problem is the excessive use of plastics in one-off applications together with careless disposal.