Today, we find plastic in almost everything, in our clothes, computers, phones, furniture, appliances, houses, and vehicles. Synthetic polymers are lightweight, durable, and can be molded in almost any shape. Some usage examples are Bakelite for mechanical parts, PVC for plumbing, electric gears and cases, nylon for packaging, and so on. Since synthetic polymers are durable, plastic takes 500-1000 years to break down. Hence, they often end up in landfills and oceans. More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, according to a report by the World Economic Forum . A study suggests that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
Concentrations of plastic debris in the world’s surface waters. Credit: Cozar et. al.
A cycle of plastic karma? Any plastic that is smaller than 5mm can be considered “Microplastic”. Microplastics mainly come from plastic exposed to UV in the ocean and deteriorate into small pieces, then are swallowed by marine species. Following the food chain, microplastic ends up in fishes, shrimps, crabs, and into our bodies. There are at least 269,000 tons floating in the ocean according to a study by 5 Gyres Institute. Microplastics have been found in food and water that humans consume on a daily basis. Although we need more research before panicking, a sagacious person would not be blithe about the possibility of a cycle of plastic karma to future generations.
In his paper “Technofossils of the Anthropocene”, Taffel asks a key question:
“The key question is not if, but how, we arrive at collective decisions to attempt the rewilding, dispersion, protection, conservation, thinning, or removal of particular types of living and nonliving entities from specific ecosystems, while recognizing that the dynamism of ecological systems means that any certitude surrounding the deep-time impact of such actions is illusory.”
To elaborate on this question, I propose a specific approach: “How might we separate, prevent, remove plastic from the oceans, thus saving marine and human lives?”
Taffel, Sy. (2016). Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics. 12. 355-375. 10.1215/17432197-3648906.
Ballerini, Tosca & Pen, Jean-Ronan & Andrady, Anthony & Cole, Matthew & Galgani, François & Kedzierski, Mikaël & Pedrotti, Maria Luiza & ter halle, Alexandra & van Arkel, Kim & Zettler, Erik & Amaral-Zettler, Linda & Bruzaud, Stéphane & Brandon, Jennifer & Durand, Gael & Enevoldsen, Enrik & Eriksen, Marcus & Fabre, Pascale & Fossi, Maria-Christina & Frère, Laura & Wong-Wah-Chung, Pascal. (2018). Plastic pollution in the ocean: what we know and what we don’t know about. 10.13140/RG.2.2.36720.92160.
Www3.weforum.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf> [Accessed 3 October 2020].
David Barnes, “Biodiversity: Invasions by Marine Life on Plastic Debris.” Nature, 6883.1 (2002): 808-809. Print.
Derraik, Jose G. “The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44.1 (2002): 842 – 852. Print.