By TAKHMINA BAZARKHANOVA
[Editor’s note: This op-ed was written for Rebecca Skullerud’s sophomore English class at Helix High School as part of a ‘Call to Action’ unit and submitted separately to La Mesa Courier.]
Today, everyone knows that our beloved oceans are under a threat of severe pollution by trash, especially throwaway plastic. According to Mark Spalding, president of The Ocean Foundation, it is “a problem that is both contributed to by most of humanity and potentially harmful to all of humanity.”
Pollution is not a new phenomenon; it is older than most people realize. Throughout the centuries, the pollution of water was a catalyst for many typhoid and cholera outbreaks. According to the history of water pollution, it all was initiated in “ancient Rome, where sewers carried human waste into the Tiber River. The river was so polluted the Romans had to construct aqueducts to obtain clean drinking water.”
The ocean pollution issue deserves big attention and solutions and should be considered as a world problem. There are a variety of reasons for that: plastic never goes away, poisons our food chain, affects human health, threatens humans and wildlife, and many more.
Who causes this whole mess? People. And who can end it? People. According to Ryan Schleeter, a content editor for Greenpeace, “corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, and others are literally choking our planet with a substance that does not just ‘go away’ when we toss it into a bin” — up to 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year. Americans alone discard more than 269,000 tons of plastic into the ocean per year. There are people who dump the garbage directly into the seas and oceans, and there are times when the litter comes from land-based sources such as trash cans, streets, and sewers.
Most people don’t realize that they are doing harm for themselves and others. The idea that we could be harming ourselves by eating seafood containing tiny pieces of plastic — microplastic — is highly frightening. Animals also suffer from plastic pollution. In fact, they suffer more than humans do. Hundreds of animal species are in danger when plastics end up in bodies of water. As Daniel Victor, a New York Times reporter, writes, “Ingesting plastic gives marine mammals a false sensation of fullness without providing any of the nutrients they need.” There are a variety of dead whales that have been found with 13 pounds of plastic inside their bodies, 18 pounds, 64 pounds, 88 pounds, etc. all over the world. Plastics also can entangle and trap animals, sometimes causing them to drown. Plastic destroys habitats and even affects animals’ mating rituals, which can have devastating consequences and wipe out entire species.
There exist people who care about our planet. They organize associations to advance global solutions to plastic pollution. For instance, Plastic Pollution Coalition is a growing global alliance of more than 750 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 60 countries working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, waterways, the ocean, and the environment. Another crowd-funded organization called Ocean Cleanup has announced that they have raised enough money to tackle the cleanup of the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world, a 618,000-square-mile floating mass of trash dubbed “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Scientists working for the organization have conducted meticulous analyses of the area and have said that it is possible to clear the plastic waste by utilizing tidal flow to the project’s advantage. Break Free from Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 1,500 organizations from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. All of these organizations above share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision.
Of course, recycling alone will never end the flow of plastics into our oceans. Drink companies produce over 500 billion single-use plastic bottles annually; there is no way we can recycle our way out of a problem of that scale. What we can and must do is to cut the source of the problem — slow down the production of all this plastic waste. What I am urging you to do is to stop and think about the place you live in; is it clean or is it dirty, think about how can you contribute to make it much cleaner, and think about how are you able to keep it that way, even make it into a habit of yours. The same exact thought process is needed for the ocean pollution problem: Think about what caused this issue and how does it affect you, your friends, or the overall community; think about how you can leave your mark on solving this issue, and think about how you are able to stem the source of it forever.
Here are some effective solutions to the ocean plastic pollution issue:
For storing and preparing food, invest in stainless steel food containers with lids rather than in plastic items.
Use real plates, cutlery and glasses, and cloth napkins, if possible.
Eliminate unnecessary disposable items, like straws, drink stirrers, toothpicks, and lids for cups, or make available upon request only.
A river was the starting point of pollution, so let’s make an ocean the ending point.
— Takhmina Bazarkhanova is a student at Helix Charter High School.