Climate, Energy, Featured, Ocean, Oil & Gas, Plastic

Making Connections – Plastic & Oil

Plastic. It’s a perfect symbol of our lasting footprint on the Earth. Man made. Petroleum based. Global impact. Destructive.  It represents our ability to turn a blind eye to the consequences of our actions in exchange for a perceived convenient lifestyle. It’s everywhere … and it needs to stop.

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Our addiction to plastic is a problem. We each toss nearly 185 lbs of plastic per year! Much of that plastic waste we “throw away” ends up in the ocean where it is consumed by marine life and can entangle sea turtles and damage coral reefs. Marine creatures mistake plastics and other garbage as food and ingest it. This mistake causes blockages within their digestive system and eventual death.

Our trashy lifestyles are also altering the chemical makeup of marine ecosystems and quite frankly, our own bodies. Carcinogenic toxins such as DDT and PCBs latch on to plastic pollution because of their molecular tendency to attract oils. These tiny plastic pieces known as mermaid tears or nurdles become supersaturated poison pills. They often mimic fish eggs and end up in fish and therefore on our dinner plates.

Everything in nature is connected, intertwined, and complex. We are no exception. Our actions impact a web much larger than we often take the time to acknowledge.

Our plastic waste collects in the massive ocean gyres and washes up on otherwise beautiful beaches. There are 5 major ocean gyres worldwide, containing over five trillion pieces of plastic or 269,000 tons. These gyres cover 40% of the sea, which is equal to 1/4 of the Earth’s surface. In the Pacific Ocean, the North Pacific Gyre is home to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, a large area that is approximately the size of Texas with plastic debris extending 20 feet (6 meters) down into the water column. In 2004, researchers found 6 lbs of plastic per 1 lb of plankton in the gyre. In 2008, that figure increased to 42 lbs per 1 lb of plankton! That’s an eight times increase in four years.

Plastic is petroleum based and therefore connected to the broader issue of climate change and fossil fuels – particularly oil.  Americans use an average of 30 million single use plastic bottles each year. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture these bottles, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of oil in the US Strategic Oil Reserve. Hardly seems like an appropriate use of resources.

According to the US EPA, Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps each year.  Worldwide, as many as one trillion plastic bags are used each year. This equates to 100 million barrels of oil!

Our burning of fossil fuels is directly tied to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and climate change. Climate change in turn is causing ocean temperatures to rise and ocean acidification which threatens coral reefs across the world. Corals are also at great risk due to plastic pollution. Much like other marine creatures, they mistake plastic for food but cannot expel the microplastic fragments. As a result, they often die of starvation and nutrient deficiency.

This destructive cycle just doesn’t make sense … and it needs to change. My mission is to provide environmental education and awareness in an effort to help create this change.

As a Sustainability Consultant, I am constantly seeking opportunities to help make our planet a better place. Please feel free to contact me at ferguson.e.k@gmail.com.

Sources:

www.seeturtles.org/ocean-plastic/

www.seashepherd.org/reef-defense/marine-debris.html

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