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When Plastic Becomes Poison

Underneath the rippling waves, amidst the deep blue water, wildlife thrives in the ocean. Picture rainbow fish weaving through vibrant coral reefs, surrounded by the deep blue sea.

Unfortunately, these habitats are becoming scarce. Plastic waste kills an estimated one million marine animals every year. Marine animals eat plastic because the algae that grow easily on its surface smells like their prey. Plastic can choke and kill animals that eat it, or become stuck in their stomachs, or leave them with internal injuries. The toxic chemicals found in plastic can also shorten their lifespan or cause infertility, which affects the future of an entire species. Such as turtles, 52% of which have eaten plastic worldwide.

Other than providing an exquisite habitat for an entire underwater world, the ocean provides humans with at least 50% of the Earth’s oxygen. It provides food to 37% of the world’s population who live in coastal communities and rely on their whole family to be employed in fishing. The ocean saves lives by providing vital ingredients for medicines such as cancer treatments and powerful painkillers. Marine sponges have been found to extend the lives of breast cancer patients, and marine bacteria have been shown to destroy melanoma cancer cells in a laboratory setting. These are just a few ways the ocean benefits humans, which is why it is vital we protect it.

Break free from plastic

Reusing plastic packaging you already have will reduce the amount you buy. But the truth is, we need to stop buying plastic packaged items. While we should not stop recycling, less than 10% of plastic packaging is actually recycled in the UK. There is far too much single-use plastic being produced, and little of it can be recycled at all. In addition, most plastic can only be recycled once, which means after it has been recycled, it ends up in a landfill or burned. Burning plastic releases toxic gasses that negatively affect the environment, animals and human health.

Luckily, there are more brands swapping their plastic packaging for more sustainable materials like cardboard as sustainability is becoming more mainstream. New zero-waste shops are being built every year, and as time goes on, it is becoming easier to avoid plastics. Here are some ways you probably haven’t thought of to reduce your plastic purchases:

Firstly, fast-fashion clothing made from cheaper materials often contains plastics that take hundreds of years to decompose. Common fabrics to avoid that makeup up 64% of new clothing, including polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide. Fortunately, many brands are embracing sustainable fashion and businesses such as Patagonia and Aquafil are dedicated to giving waste materials a new life. Other brands are making smaller but powerful adjustments to the way they do business to improve their sustainability, such as Boden, who recently banned using sequins in their clothes.

Secondly, avoid beauty products that contain microplastics for exfoliating properties. These products are too harsh for the delicate skin on your face because the particles are often uneven and jagged, which can cause irritation or penetrate the surface of your skin further than necessary. A more cautious alternative is a chemical exfoliant that can be selected based on your skin type. This eliminates the risk of the product going deeper than the cells on the surface of your skin and can be applied more gently than a physical exfoliator.

Not only are they bad for your skin, they are terrible for the oceans too. After use, these microbeads go down the drainpipe, into the sewage system, and eventually into the wastewater treatment centres that are not designed to filter out microplastics. From here, they are consumed by humans and contribute to the plastic soup that turns the sea cloudy and uninhabitable. So making the switch to a better exfoliant becomes a win-win for you and the ocean!

What will the future hold?

Microplastics and larger plastic waste contribute to the 700 dead sea zones that are growing in number rapidly. Dead sea zones are parts of the sea that lack the oxygen for marine life to survive. Additionally, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a trash vortex located in between the West Coast of the USA and Japan. In a place that could not be further from human habitation on Earth, the plastic remnants of our lives are immortalised in an island of trash spanning 700,000 square kilometres. If we do not stop now, the Earth's oceans will die.

It is not too late to make a difference. Businesses are beginning to take sustainability more seriously as consumers start to spend their money on more environmentally friendly products. The United Nations dedicated No. 14 of their Sustainable Development Goals to the conservation and sustainability of the Earth’s oceans and marine life. Most importantly, everyday people can make a difference, by saying no to plastics, we will force big businesses to change and push the government to tackle climate issues.

This terrible, infinite product of humankind is harmful to ourselves, animals and the Earth. We need to take action to save our planet.


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