Pollution and waste are two of the main things that come to mind when you think of Global Warming. Among those two, the top item for both is plastic. Plastic is a vital part of our everyday lives because of its convenience. It is in almost everything from large containers and bags down to small lids and caps, then it ends up in landfills and eventually the ocean. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, nearly every single piece of plastic ever created still exists, and because of that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic items in the ocean than there will be fish. Today, there is more than five trillion pieces of plastic that are already consumed and existing in the ocean.
Items that are being found on the beach of Midway Atoll today aren’t always things that are being left behind by visitors and they’re not falling off of boats or planes. These items are washed in from the tide from China and the U.S. that are both thousands of miles away. Each and everyone of us are contributing to the enormous spinning patch of plastic garbage in the Pacific ocean; home to the millions of aquatic animals that we are invading with our selfish choices. Currently, Americans are said to use approximately 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour which contributes to the 8 million tons of plastic waste leakage into the ocean annually. It only gets worse each year.
Right now it appears to just be a bunch of numbers, but it doesn’t become an urgent problem until you can actually see it looking back at you. In Midway, there is a strong smell that reaches anyone standing on the island; thousands of bird bodies decaying. Part of that smell is produced by Mother Nature herself, Laysan albatross chicks making the decision to learn to fly or die, but that smell is also man-made. When oceanographer Matthew Brown and CNN visited the island in June, they tore open the ribcages of those accumulated birds that did not survive to get further examination into what the birds have been consuming. Inside the skeleton was pieces of bottles caps, cigarette butts and lighters along with an endless amount of sharp tiny shards of other colorful plastic. It appears as though the birds diet is mostly if not all plastic. The birds mistake the vibrantly colored plastic as food and then bring it back to their young. They get the feeling of being full but their delicate bodies cannot digest the plastic completely. Because of this, the birds end up suffering from malnutrition and ingestion problems and end up dying sooner rather than later.
Volunteers are now struggling to maintain the full time job of cleaning up the corpses that get mixed in with the large amount of waste that gets washed up daily. The island is now littered with the numerous amounts of plastic waste that the birds consume which will be stuck inside of them forever. The Midway Island of Atoll is expected to vanish under the rising ocean level before the plastic is able to fully decay. The birds and other marine life rely on the ocean for survival just the same as 3 million humans do. If birds are being so harshly impacted by our thoughtless disposal of plastic, it is a slight foreshadow of what is to happen to humans later on as well.
Activists are now referring to the sand in midway as “new sand”; pieces of plastic that are grounded into smaller pieces of plastic that get mixed into the shoreline which eventually gets mixed into the food chain for both animals and humans known as nano-plastics and micro-plastics. There is only so much research that can be done on other animals and what they consume because they are endangered and going extinct and don’t reproduce as quickly as the birds so there is many restrictions for scientist and oceanographers.
This plastic waste is soon going to become a problem for humans as well because Seafood is essential to human life and fish are now preferring to eat plastic rather than their normal diet that they consume. Styrene is a key ingredient in plastic which is a human carcinogen according to the U.S. Government. Carcinogen is a substance that is capable of causing cancer in a living organism.
The choices of damaging pure nature with litter and pollution was a disastrous decision made by mankind decades ago. This problem is only getting worse as time goes on while humanity is getting more environmentally aware slowly. The only way of stopping this fluid flow of trash would be to have an incredible change in the daily behavior of over 7 billion people. We can start this change by using reusable water bottles, utensils and insisting on less packaging for consumer based products.
As for now though, there is a balance of convenience and the likely risk to human lifestyle which is in being held in our very own hands next to our coffee cups. But there is still a glimmer of hope that humans will eventually change their ways as a whole to make our planet a better place for everyone, including the animals.