After posting about plastic pollution earlier this week (In Case You Missed It: Disposable Plastic Still Sucks), I realized that it is important to clarify where plastic pollution that ends up in the ocean comes from. It seems that most people assume plastic pollution comes from beach goers who litter, but that is often not the case.
Plastic pollution, like cigarette filters, tampon applicators and condoms, are signs of a different problem: nonpoint source pollution. Nonpoint source cannot be traced back to one point (like air pollution from a smoke stack or water pollution from a chemical company can), it instead comes from a combination of sources.
When rain or melted snow travels over the ground through a watershed, the runoﬀ picks up and moves pollution, ﬂowing through waterways and ultimately into the ocean. Bringing cigarette filters and other pieces of litter that were tossed out the windows of cars upstream, downstream.
When condoms and tampon applicators are found on a beach, they become indicators for a different type of problem: combined sewage overflows (CSOs). CSOs occur when sewage and stormwater systems are combined.
Stormwater systems are the network of piping, systems and facilities that manage runoﬀ from paved surfaces and roofs. These systems were designed to move water as fast as possible, but as paved surface area (and development) continues to increase, and the infrastructure is not updated, not as much water can be held in the pipes. This water flows directly into waterways.
When stormwater systems are combined with sewer systems, and a heavy rain occurs, the water and sewage releases directly into waterways and into the ocean. When a CSO event happens, whatever people have flushed down their toilets (like tampon applicators, condoms, etc.) show up on our shores.
It is therefore important to remember that even those of us who do not live close to the ocean have an impact on it and the marine ecosystems it supports. We must all be mindful of our daily habits and encourage others to realize that we are all downstream and we should all keep an eye on plastic pollution.
For information about the artist who created the plastic eye pictured above, click here.