Africa: plastic pollution will kill us all!
Seoul, Tokyo, Jakarta, Los Angeles — Have you ever watched the movie “Free Willy”? A young boy, Jesse, had an orc friend named Willy. Jesse released Willy into the wild ocean believing it was the best decision for his friend. Well, that was a long time ago.
If Free Willy was made in 2022, would we have the same ending?
With over 165 million tons of plastic waste found in the ocean these days, we wonder if Willy would really feel safe in our plastic-filled waters.
Considering that more than 100 million marine animals die each year due to plastic pollution, wouldn’t the aquarium be a safer habitat for Willy today?
Let’s explore the causes of plastic waste in the ocean, the impact on ocean ecosystems, and the steps we need to take to reduce it in order to protect marine life and ultimately preserve our world’s biodiversity.
One day, while watching television, I was so disturbed by a campaign that showed images of suffering fish and sea turtles tangled in plastic bags and fishing nets.
Around 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year, with around 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating around in the sea. It’s no wonder so many marine animals get entangled in it. This restricts their movements, leading to their untimely death.
Which is why I wonder if Willy would really be free in our ocean today.
Also, how do plastics end up there in the first place? Well, ALL of us humans are the direct cause! The plastic waste we casually throw away flows into rivers that carry it to the ocean – including nets, lines, ropes and boats abandoned by fishermen.
Which countries are most responsible for it? According to the University of Georgia, countries like China and Indonesia top the list of countries responsible for plastic pollution, blocking the global sea.
However, we all know that Willy is not the only sea animal affected by plastic waste in the ocean – all marine life and ecosystems are affected, which directly affects our biodiversity.
Why should we care? Because it affects ALL of humanity! We too are concerned.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes of microplastics are ingested by fish in the North Pacific each year, as many mistake the plastics for food.
These are the same fish that we humans eat! According to Luís Gabriel A Barboza and others in the journal Science Direct, 49% of the fish they analyzed had microplastics inside the gastrointestinal tract, gills and back muscle.
Since we are at the top of the seafood food web, we consume about 842 microplastic items per year from fish consumption. It’s horrible !
According to a study by Joana Correia Prata and others, microplastics can disrupt immune function and cause neurotoxicity in humans.
So, in short, we end up eating the plastic waste we throw into the ocean, from which we will inevitably get sick.
Think about it: we eat over 40 pounds of plastic (18 kilograms) in our lifetime. That’s the size of a large bag of dog food! Worse still, this plastic could even contain harmful toxins!
Now how does that make you feel?
Similarly, marine animals are also harmed by plastic waste. According to EcoWatch, one in three species of marine animals become entangled in litter.
Isn’t it sad that 86% of innocent sea turtles are suffocated, drowned or entangled in plastic?
And microplastics? When marine animals ingest plastic, they can starve as their stomachs are filled with plastic debris and often cut by plastic and suffer internal injuries.
If we don’t stop the accumulation of plastic waste in the ocean, what will become of us and our marine animals?
According to Condor Ferries, by 2050 there will be more fish than our dumped plastic. If you were to go snorkeling at this time expecting to see beautiful marine life, you would be shocked to find dirty plastic swimming around you instead.
Under these circumstances, what is the impact of plastic waste on ocean waters? According to Okunola A Alabi and others, plastics in the oceans do not degrade completely. During the plastic degradation process, toxic chemicals like polystyrene and BPA can be released into the water, causing water pollution.
In addition to water pollution, plastic waste also threatens the habitats of marine animals. Harsh conditions and constant movement in the ocean break down plastic into particles less than 5mm in diameter, called microplastics, which are dispersed even further and deeper into the sea, where they contaminate more habitats.
If Jesse released Willy into the ocean now, how would Willy feel when he ingests microplastics with every breath he takes? Something has to be done for other animals like Willy. What action can we take to solve this problem?
Well, we don’t have to be big to do something big.
Even a small seed of an idea can lead to a thoughtful solution.
Let’s share what we are doing to reduce plastic waste in our daily lives.
As middle schoolers, we bring our reusable bottles to school and drink from the water fountain.
We use shampoo bars instead of shampoo from a plastic bottle.
Also, instead of using plastic bags for our groceries, we carry our reusable shopping bags.
And when we go to a take-out, we bring in our pots so that the restaurant doesn’t need to use plastic containers. For example, when we go to a take-out ramen noodle restaurant, we carry our pots and give them to the owner of the restaurant. Then he uses ours instead of disposable plastics (see main photo).
We also carry our slogans in public places such as schools and grocery stores as part of our campaign to educate people about reducing plastic waste and protecting marine animals and the environment (see photos 1 to 4 ).
These may be small actions, but they actively contribute to reducing plastic waste. If you join us in our zero waste lifestyle, we can make our community practice zero waste.
If our community goes zero waste, maybe we can help our country practice zero waste. If our nation goes zero waste, our neighboring countries can join us, and eventually, we can make this whole world go zero waste!
This type of chain reaction is not a far-fetched idea. We can do it!!
One small step is enough to start turning INACTION into ACTION! Many parts of the world already practice zero waste, such as Japan, Costa Rica, Dominica and Guatemala, where more than 80% of their waste is reused and recycled.
It is our duty as citizens of the world to protect marine animals and their habitats from our plastic waste. Aquatic animals do so much for us.
Not only do they provide us with food, but they are part of vital ecosystems on which the biodiversity of our world depends.
So exercise your power by doing your part to keep the ocean clean and safe for them.
Those who are able and willing to practice the zero waste movement – COME, I ask you to join us in our action!
Use your creative mind to imagine a plastic-free ocean. Sea animals like Willy will never be free unless we, as citizens of the world, take action to clean up our trash in the sea.
For the love of marine life, as Mother Teresa said, let’s do small things with great love. How would YOU like to start contributing? Our oceans must thrive for ALL of us to survive!
Andrew Lee, Karuta Yamamoto, SooJung (Chrystal) Cho and Warren Oh are college students living in the United States and Asia. They participated in a joint APDA and IPS training on developing opinion content. Hanna Yoon conducted the course and edited the opinion content.
Report of the UN IPS Office