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We're In Trouble

Actually, we’re in a race. It’s a race to make sure we all have enough clean water to survive. For some reason preserving and conserving our water seems to divide people, and it shouldn’t.

Think about this.

Since 1950, the global population has grown from 2.5 billion to a current population of well…it grows minute by minute. Take a look at the UN Worldometer. It is upticking population numbers at an alarming rate. By 2050, that number is projected to reach almost 9.7 billion. Just think, every day we have less and less drinkable water on the planet. Every day, we have more and more people drinking it, using it, and polluting it. 

We NEED clean water to survive. Why? 60% to 70% of an adult is water. Our food supply depends on it. And all living things on our planet have to have water to survive. The trouble is 40% of our water is polluted.  The question is, will there be enough clean water for us to survive? You tell me.

Love Canal; the Flint Michigan Water Crisis; the recent toxic waste spill in East Palestine Ohio, all these sensational national headlines caught our attention. But why does something have to reach a level of sensationalism to catch the attention of the Americans, and for that matter the rest of the world? How many stories about other types of pollution get buried and seldom brought to the public’s attention? There are volumes and volumes of books, articles, blog posts, documentaries, movies, and more written about the three main types of pollution — air pollution, water pollution, and land pollution.

Each of those types of pollution break down into several smaller categories of pollution, but cumulatively, they all add up to potential doom and disaster for our planet. Given the many forms of information on pollution there are, we decided to focus on one that has a dramatic impact on the ocean and the creatures living in it and ultimately all living things on our planet. Let’s talk about something that is practically invisible. Let’s talk about microplastics.

What Are Microplastics?

What happens to all of that single-use plastic after we’re done with it? Plastic enters our oceans by poor management at landfills, illegal dumping, being washed down rivers and drains, and litter being left on beaches, in towns and cities. The sad truth is we are consuming more plastics than recycling can keep up with. Check out the following key points from the 2022 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – Global Plastics Outlook.

      • Plastic consumption has quadrupled over the past 30 years, driven by growth in emerging markets. Global plastics production doubled from 2000 to 2019 to reach 460 million tons. Plastics account for 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
      • Global plastic waste generation more than doubled from 2000 to 2019 to 353 million tons. Nearly two-thirds of plastic waste comes from plastics with lifetimes of under five years, with 40% coming from packaging, 12% from consumer goods and 11% from clothing and textiles.
      • Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled (15% is collected for recycling but 40% of that is disposed of as residues). Another 19% is incinerated, 50% ends up in landfill and 22% evades waste management systems and goes into uncontrolled dumpsites, is burned in open pits or ends up in terrestrial or aquatic environments, especially in poorer countries.


Microplastics

Thanks to sun exposure and waves, plastics break down into teeny, tiny little pieces of plastic called microplastics. It would take a plastic bottle about 450 to 500 years to decompose and a 6-ring beverage holder about 400 years. Do we really need those plastic rings? What’s wrong with the cardboard ones that can be recycled?

And guess what? If you eat sardines, anchovies, and shellfish, there’s a risk that what fish eat, you may eat. Microplastics and chemicals find their way into the tissues of fish so your chances of eating microplastics through secondary transfer are pretty good. 

You may think 70% of the Earth is covered in water so what’s a few billion microscopic pieces of plastic in the scheme of things. Actually, up to 12 million metric tons find their way into the ocean. That’s about 26 billion pounds — or the
equivalent of more than 100,000 blue whales — every single year. [1] 

Most fish for human consumption contain microplastics, according to a new study. Scientists from New Zealand and Australia detected microplastics in 75% of commercial fish species. Both bottom-dwellers and pelagic fish were equally affected, suggesting the plastics are suspended throughout the water column.

Polyethylene and polypropylene were found to be the most common plastic polymers ingested. The study, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, examined 155 fish from 10 species, including Red Cod, caught off the Otago coast.

Does Any of This Make You ANGRY?

I wish I could say the pictures above have been Photoshopped, but they’re real. No fakes here. There are thousands of pictures, some worse than the ones above, showing floating layers of pollution that foul our oceans. Unfortunately, the sea turtle that’s lying dead on the beach wasn’t one of lucky ones being freed by kind divers that show up on YouTube. If they’re not getting caught up in fishing nets they’re chowing down on plastic bags. (The plastic bags look like jellyfish to sea turtles and other aquatic mammals.) 

Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of the floating island of plastic called the “Great Pacific Garbage”. It is estimated to be the size of Texas and is located in the North Pacific Gyre, one of five gyres in the world’s oceans. 

There are five major gyres: the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres, the North and South Atlantic Subtropical Gyres, and the Indian Ocean Subtropical Gyre.

In some instances, the term “gyre” is used to refer to the collections of plastic waste and other debris found in higher concentrations in certain parts of the ocean. While this use of “gyre” is increasingly common, the term traditionally refers simply to large, rotating ocean currents.

Day after day, the sun and waves break down plastics and the chemicals that bind them into small bits of snack food for fish, turtles, and other aquatic mammals.  

What Can We Do To Help?

Below are a few problems along with some solutions to help reduce plastic waste. Some of these solutions will call for dramatic lifestyle changes, but if you really want to help reduce plastic waste, try doing these suggestions. You’ll feel much better about being part of the solution.

PROBLEM

SOLUTION

In the U.S. it’s estimated that we throw away more than 50 billion paper coffee cups with lids every year. Lids are not recyclable and end up in landfills where they sit for hundreds of years before they decompose. Stirrers and straws aren’t recyclable either.

Start using a reusable cup or bottle. Many of the coffee shops will give you a discount if you use your own cup or bottle.

Plastic cannot be economically recycled. For instance, #5 plastic is accepted in 52% of recycling facilities in the U.S.; however, less than 5% of it is actually repurposed. The rest is put into landfills.

Bring your food and drink in reusable containers and bottles when you go to beaches and parks instead of bringing plastic bottles.

More than 561 billion individual plastic utensils are used by Americans every year. These items are not easily recycled and like all plastic stuff, they most often end up in our environment, landfills, and incinerators.

There are durable eco-friendly, compostable alternatives to plastic spoons, forks, and knives that break down in 30 days. Until your favorite fast food restaurants start using them, why not use a spork.

Plastic straws are among the top 10 contributors to plastic marine debris across the globe.  Nearly 7.5 million plastic straws were found on U.S. shorelines during a five-year cleanup research project. Extrapolated globally, that is 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the world’s coastlines.

Do we REALLY need straws? And if we REALLY need them why not use paper ones. They are biodegradable and only take about two to six weeks.

We Care So We Give: The Water T's Project

Clean Water T Shirt
Conserve Water T-Shirt

Steven J. Athanas has created some thought provoking drawings like the ones above to bring home the importance of water conservation and preservation. (He’s working on a few more he wants to print.) Each drawing will be printed on high quality materials and sold on Sea King CBD. We call this particular project “The Water T’s Project”.

They will be priced at $55.00 each. A significant percentage of the profits will be donated to non-profit organizations that are focused on cleaning up our oceans. These shirts are will go on sale sometime in May. More details to follow.

References

[1] Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., & Law, K. L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. In Science (Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 768–771). American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1260352

[2] Isabella K. Clere et al, Quantification and characterization of microplastics in commercial fish from southern New Zealand, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 184, 2022, 114121, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2022.114121.

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