The problem of plastic pollution has come to the fore, thanks to the work of environmental groups who have highlighted the toll it is taking on the oceans and marine life. Much of the damage comes from the sheer volume of plastic items that are used just once and then thrown away. This website by a company called SLOActive that markets sustainable, eco-friendly swimwear has data on the harm that plastics are doing and what we can do to mitigate the damage. The numbers are staggering. About 1.15 to 2.41 million tons of plastic are said to annually enter the world’s oceans via rivers.
The problem of microplastics, the tiny plastic particles that are created near the end point of the plastic degradation process, is now coming to the fore. As the website says:
Scientific research surveys have revealed that microplastics are widespread throughout the world’s oceans, and are having a negative impact on marine life, as well as the health of humans who rely on seafood as a staple protein source. Polystyrene beads and plastic pellets are not easily digested so tend to accumulate in the digestive tract of marine animals who consume them. This can result in the animal feeling full, causing it to stop feeding, leading to emaciation and ultimately death from starvation, or it can cause an intestinal blockage that can also be fatal. When a predator feeds on a fish that has a gut full of undigested polystyrene or plastic, this is passed on to the predator who in most cases will also have problems digesting it.
In Australia , two major retailers have stopped issuing plastic bags and some states have banned them. An Australian senate committee has issued a report recommending that all single use plastics be banned by the year 2023. Some US states and cities are also taking steps towards the elimination of single-use plastics. In the US, Starbucks has made a big media splash by vowing to eliminate plastic straws from its stores by 2020.
The two targets currently in the news are disposable plastic bags and plastic straws. In the US, stores hand out these bags far too readily. If I buy even a single small item, the cashier will immediately slip it into a plastic bag and give it to me and I have to ask them to take it out again and just give me the item and keep the bag. If I know I will be buying a lot of stuff, I take my own bags.
I have never understood the need for straws, though. I actually prefer to drink straight from the glass or cup without a straw. The only times when a straw is necessary is if you are in a moving vehicle and your cup has a tight lid with an aperture that the straw pokes through to prevent spilling. Another, less frequent occasion, is when I am drinking something with a large head of foam (like an ice cream milk shake) and I don’t want the foam all over my face. But plastic straws, like plastic bags, are also handed out indiscriminately, without being asked for.
I am waiting for the inevitable backlash against these moves to limit single-use plastics. In the US there are a number of people who not only deny that the planet and the environment need protecting, they actually go out of their way to create pollution, by deliberately adjusting their vehicles to belch smoke. Any attempt to limit their choices is seen by them as a monstrous infringement on their rights. Remember the outcry against the introduction of compact fluorescent light bulbs? At some point, they are going to ask for multiple straws for a single drink and separate plastic bags for each item, however small, just to show their contempt for the environment. They are really that petty. They may be aided in their effort by the news that even Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, has launched a war against single-use plastic bags, calling it a “serious threat to the well-being of both humans and animals.” That news alone is enough for the crazies in the US to argue that fighting single-use plastics is an insidious plot to undermine the way of life of righteous god-fearing Merkins. After all, if god didn’t want us to use plastics, he wouldn’t have invented it, no?