All rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
~Ecclesiastes 1 vs 7 KJV Bible~
I’m yet to visit the ocean, yet to experience the peace and serenity the vast expanse of blue has to offer in its views. Those who’ve been to the ocean say there is nothing quite like it especially being inside its belly, beneath its waves, that is a thrill I can only imagine. Unfortunately, this beauty may not be around for long, at least for future generations it may not. Plastic pollution is a serious problem, as serious as climate change, our oceans are becoming garbage dumps and the evidence, unlike climate change, is indisputable and tangible.
Since its invention a little over half a century ago, plastic has been a break through miracle material. Imagine having discovered a product that can be used in virtually any industry and be molded into anything. Plastic came as a relief to the natural world at a time when the industrial evolution had taken much from the planet and demand for raw materials was not matching supply. It made cars and airplanes lighter, life became convenient. Think about all the plastic in your life, your personal belongings, your valuables and all the plastic in your house. Plastic did good for the environment relieving pressure over natural non renewable materials like metals, skins and many more for example the use of plastic keys on pianos instead of ivory. So what went wrong with the miracle that is plastic?
Ever heard of the statement ‘ when you start something, you have to know how to stop it”? Yes, the problem with plastic is we do not have a way of degrading it (which would be the equivalent of stopping it) after it has been produced and dispatched for use. One writer said if the Pilgrim fathers had had plastic wrappers and bottles they used and tossed off the Mayflower, their plastic waste would still be present in the ocean today. Think about it, what does this tell you about the pieces of plastic you have disposed of, the wrappers you tossed out of the window because your car had to be kept clean , it is still out there.
The second biggest problem with plastic is its disposable nature. We all have come to know how easily you can toss it out and get another plastic thing, whatever it may be. Our world today is characterized by a growing culture of consumerism, people are constantly buying more and more than they need, and the culture of convenience and making products more accessible with less work is rife. Think for a second about your life just 10 years ago; did you use as much plastic as you do today? Did you use as many disposable water bottles, cups and plates as you do today? Remember when you carried an old plastic bag or a shopping basket to do your shopping with? What changed? We all became cultured in consumerism and plastic became just a simple disposable luxury. Growing up bottled water was an unnecessary luxury and at least in the society I am from, it was a waste of money. However, in the city of Bulawayo today, bottled water sells for less than a dollar and it is more convenient for a consumer to buy bottles of water and toss them out than it is to walk around tied to a bottle for a whole day. This is a big problem, not an improvement in our lives.
The world’s production of plastic has seen an exponential increase from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 162 million in 1993 and 448 million in 2015. It has become easier and cheaper to make, and almost everything can be made from plastic today, made disposable. Plastic has been made cheaper and less luxurious but the problems it comes with are close to irreversible and very expensive. I know a lot of people will say, “But I recycle so its not that bad”, but fact is, less that a 5th of all plastic gets recycled globally, and in a country as big as the United States (big country-big pollution-big waste production) as progressive and well resourced as it is, less than 10% gets recycled. Consequently, recycling plastic is not nearly enough in the fight against it, we need to reduce, in fact try to stop our excessive plastic consumption. The plastic choking up the oceans today is from you and me. We need to realize that we inland, most of us who have never seen the sea, send tons of plastic to choke it up every year through our drainage systems.
You may be wondering why I chose to write about plastic on a blog about birds. Plastic is a major environmental problem in the world today and a lot of organisms including birds are suffering from this human caused problem. This year, a lot of studies have been done and published about the problem and a lot of efforts have been made to show the extent and halt the progression of the problem. I will this month, be taking the pledge to re-evaluate the amount of plastic in my life and reducing it. I would like you to join me and make the pledge, to be more conscious of the single use plastics you use and maybe start by refusing that plastic bag they always offer at the till (cash registry).