“I am in 7th grade and my school is doing a project where each student has to research and try and solve one problem in the world. I have chosen plastic pollution. We waste way too much plastic and it is really harming our environment.”
I received the e-mail above earlier this week. At first, I was overjoyed to receive such an e-mail. A strange thing to say, since it speaks on the harmful effects of plastic in our environment, but it is from a 7th grader. Children showing an interest in the environment gives me hope for the future. It is so important that we teach our children well (cue CSNY) and teach them the value of the ecosystems around them.
Once I got past my initial excitement over being able to speak with a middle schooler about plastic pollution, I got to thinking about why plastic is “really harming our environment.”
Over and over again throughout college my classmates and I tried to convince our peers to stop drinking bottled water. I have written a number of posts about my bottled water crusade (click here to read more), if you are curious. I have written on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and about how plastic ends up in huge concentrations in the ocean, but I hadn’t seen the ocean pollution problem first hand…until I started working for Clean Ocean Action.
Clean Ocean Action is an environmental nonprofit based in Sandy Hook, NJ. Our goal is to “improve the degraded water quality of the marine waters off the New Jersey/New York coast.” COA has a number of different pollution prevention programs, one of which being our Beach Sweeps program.
Beach Sweeps has been around for 28 years and has grown each and every year. It is a New Jersey statewide beach clean up, where volunteers head out to over 60 different beaches (rivers and bays, too) with a bag for trash and a bag for recyclables and pick up trash for a few hours. The volunteers also collect data on what they find.
Beach Sweeps happens twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The data that we collect comes from a few thousand volunteers over the course of 7 hours.
In only 7 hours (during 2012), Beach Sweep volunteers removed over 350,000 pieces of debris from NJ’s shoreline. The majority of the debris removed was disposable plastics – representing 82.7% of the total waste found. To see what else volunteers found, check out COA’s 2012 Beach Sweeps Report.
The majority of the debris removed was disposable plastics including:
- 49,362 cigarette filters
- 22,308 straws and stirrers
- 38,349 caps and lids
In just SEVEN HOURS. Imagine how much goes in and out with the tide EACH DAY. The number of plastic in the ocean must be incredible. To see what else ended up in the ocean, click here.
But why worry?
Plastics do not biodegrade – they photodegrade, meaning they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never truly go away. As they break down, they release toxic chemicals into the ocean. These toxic chemicals are absorbed by the marine life that accidentally eat the plastic pieces. The animals often mistake plastic bags or pieces of bags as prey.
For example, sea turtles feed on jellyfish, and often mistake floating plastic bags in the ocean for them. Other pieces of plastic, like 6-pack rings, can entangle marine life and hurt them or even kill them.
So what can we do?
- Stop using single-use plastic bags. I often see people bringing reusable canvas bags to the grocery store, but not as much in retail stores. Bring reusable bags for ALL shopping!
- Use a Brita pitcher – or better yet, drink tap water – to avoid buying plastic bottles.
- Avoid buying items in individual wrapped packages, which generate more waste, try to buy in bulk.
- Educate others on the dangers of plastic in the ocean.
- Participate in beach clean ups like the Beach Sweeps on Saturday, April 27!
Together, we can try like the 7th grader who e-mailed me and solve one problem in the world; plastic pollution.