Planet or Plastic?
Stop. Look around you. I can almost guarantee that you will see some form of plastic. It is everywhere – from the visible plastic bag blowing on the side of the road to the invisible plastic – in our clothing, water, soil and food.
Plastic pollution is a global crisis with an estimated 8 to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic waste entering the ocean around the world every year.
Did you know that Barbados imported over 100 million plastic bags last year? That’s enough plastic to wrap around the island 368 times! We also imported 150 000 pounds of plastic cups (the weight of 43 ZR vans) and 140 000 lbs of straws, enough to fill nine 40ft containers. That’s a lot of plastic, the majority of it being single use.
‘Single-use’ was named 2018 word of the year by Collins Dictionary. Single-use refers to products, often made of plastic, intended to be used only once and thrown away. These disposable items often have a lifespan of on average 10 to 15 minutes but can stay around in the environment forever.
Plastic may be cheap and convenient but comes with a growing human health, environmental and economic cost. There are seven types of plastic; many of these contain chemicals and toxins that have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and even lower sperm count. Is this what you wish to continue eating your souse out of?
So what happens to your styrofoam food container after you’ve discarded it? When we ‘throw something away’, there is no such thing as away. It must go somewhere – that somewhere often ends up being on the side of the road, blocking drains and sewage systems, leading to increased flooding; it can provide a breeding ground for pests and mosquitoes contributing to increased risk of mosquito borne illnesses; some enters gullies contaminating soil and water, and other plastic fills up our already crowded landfill.
However, much of the plastic that is discarded enters the Ocean. Plastic is making our corals sick. These are the same corals that protect our coastline, support fisheries and play a major role in driving tourism. Plastic debris also causes the death of seabirds, marine mammals and other marine species annually.
It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the ocean (if our current practices continue). Still not convinced of the negative impacts of plastic? Seafood eaters can consume as much as 11 000 pieces of microplastics (plastics less than 5mm in size) every year.
Chances are that if you’re eating fish, you’re eating plastic too! I am not saying to stop eating fish, (but I am saying to eat less fish due to overfishing and unsustainable fishing). What I am saying is to stop producing the plastic and stop putting it in.
The average person eats at least 50 000 particles of microplastics a year, and breathes in a similar quantity. Microplastics have been found in 81% of drinking water worldwide as well as in our table salt.
(A Healthy planet = A Healthy people)
So what do you choose – Planet or Plastic? Will you be a part of the wave of change?
Take the challenge with me this week. Try to refuse one single use plastic item – whether a straw, cutlery, bag or food container. Where possible, choose reusable, not disposable!
Next week: Plastic Ban 101 – All you wish and need to know about the ban.
Nikola Simpson is a marine biologist that uses her voice to speak for the ocean. She is passionate about raising awareness on ocean conservation such as the impacts of plastic pollution and how we as individuals can make small changes that create a big positive impact towards an environmentally sustainable and conscious Caribbean.
She is the founder of Sustainable Caribbean where she offers a range of sustainability consulting services and the Crate Barbados, the Caribbean’s first one stop eco shop.
Email: [email protected]
Social: @sustainablecaribbean @thecratebarbados on IG and FB