Plastic waste is killing our ocean

Posted date: 05/30/2018
(VSA - 05/29/2018) Plastic is the most popular material in houseware production in the world because it is durable, flexible, lightweight and relatively inexpensive. About 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year, and the figure for plastic production is being continuously kept growing.

The plastic waste "wrap" the Earth

Plastic is the most popular material in houseware production in the world because it is durable, flexible, lightweight and relatively inexpensive. About 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year, and the figure for plastic production is being continuously kept growing. The growing in world's population leads to increase in demands for tourism meanwhile marine tourism is considered as the most developing industry, but the habits of freely discharging wastes in reservoirs, beaches as a consequence that plastic waste to be the most popular type.

Plastic wastes currently account for 60-80% of the total marine garbage, even reaching to approximately 90% in some area. In nature, plastic decomposes very slowly, it may take hundreds of years for this process, thus pollution of the marine environment is becoming more and more serious.

Prof. Jan Zalasiewicz - University of Leicester (UK) said: "Our Earth is suffering 5 billion tons of plastic waste, polluting marine lives, creeping into the natural food chains. Not only floating on the ocean surface, plastic litter sinking into the deepest ocean trenches".

Every year, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags, plastic products. They are either buried underground, or thrown innocently into the ocean. According to statistics of Clean Air website, one million plastic bags are used around the world every minute and most of them are wasted and thrown into the sea and oceans.

Experts estimated that there are about 46,000 substandard products of plastic floating on each square mile (about 2.6 square kilometers) at sea.

Plastic waste that thrown into the sea, moves around the world by the ocean currents. Larger plastic objects often float on the world's five subtropical currents. Just North Pacific current in the last 40 years, the amount of plastic waste has been increased by 100 times. In the middle of these currents, wastes are drifting into giant ocean vortices where plastic is broken into tiny fragments. Small plastic debris will be swept away, even drift to remote waters in polar region.

Plastic waste is traveling around the planet. It's an interesting finding that by the oceanic currents, a plastic duck dropped in the Pacific Ocean moved to Scotland then to North Atlantic, Japan and North America in a period of 10 months. In other words, the plastic that you throw into the sea today will soon travel around the world.

"Plastic waste pollution even worse than recent estimates. They include everything made of plastic that you can imagine" - said Mr. Marcus Eriksen, research director of Five Gyres Institute (USA).

The US authorities warned that, one million tons of plastic trash is floating in the waters between the Hawaiian Islands and California. This is one of the terrible consequences of the Japan Earthquake & Tsunami happened in 2011.

The 'toxic monster' occupies a sea surface area that is equivalent to the area of Texas (678,907km2) of the United States, double size of the inland of Vietnam (331,698km2). The heart of the trash island is located 2,700 km from the US coast. If plastic wastes gather together and merge into large size, they will form a floating island even larger than the United States. Theoretically, the amount of trash entering the North America can be up to 5 million tons.

Henderson Island situated in the South Pacific is one of the most remote and secluded islands in the world. This is an uninhabited island and is visited only once every 5 to 10 years for research purposes. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed Henderson Island on the World Heritage List in 1988.

The island located far away from the residential area but its beaches are covered in garbage. Scientists at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) of the University of Tasmania, estimated that there were about 37.7 million pieces of plastic waste, equivalent to 17 metric tons, scattered on the beach of Henderson Island. The research result is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). With density about 671 pieces of plastic litter per square meter, the Henderson Island has the highest levels of plastic pollution in the world. The main reason is because this island is located close to the Gyre's centre in the Southern Pacific, which makes it continues to accumulate waste carried from South America or dumped by fishing vessels.

"Henderson Island is a typical example shows how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale" - Jennifer Lavers, member of research group said.

If all the plastic wastes that thrown indiscriminately in one year is transformed into a rope, it will be enough to wrap around the earth up to 4 rounds.

Plastic bags and "white pollution"

"White pollution" is a term that scientists coined to referred to the pollution caused by plastic bags.

Plastic bag is indispensable item in daily life. With the advantages as durable, strong, flexible and low cost, plastic bag is widely used and it's literally almost everywhere, from small retail stores to the supermarkets and large commercial centers.

According to incomplete statistics, each Vietnamese household uses from 5 to 7 plastic bags per day with all shapes and sizes... Thus millions of plastic bags are used and discharged into the environment every day. The two big cities in Vietnam namely Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, are discharging about 80 tons of plastic and plastic bags a day. Hanoi discharges about 4,000 to 5,000 metric tons of rubbish every day, in which plastic waste accounts for 7 to 8%. This is a "burden" on the environment.

According to studies conducted by international scientists, the most dangerous harm of plastic bags on the environment is its properties: difficult to be decomposed under natural conditions. A small and fragile plastic bag but has decomposition process that can last from 500 to 1,000 years if not exposed to sunlight.

Its existence in the environment will cause serious effect to land and water, because plastic bags accumulated in the soil will change physical properties of soil causes soil erosion, loosing soil capacity of water holding, nutrients, preventing oxygen passing through soil that negatively affects plant growth.

If plastic bags are thrown into ponds, lakes, rivers that will clog the sewer, trench, canal, causes wastewater stagnation and flooding leading to the proliferation of many pathogenic bacteria.

More seriously, the soil and water environment contaminated by plastic bags will affect directly and indirectly to human health. Actually, there are many kinds of plastic bags made from petroleum, when buried they will effects on soil and water environment, and when burn they will generate the emission of dioxins and furans which cause poisoning, effect on endocrine gland, cause cancer, decrease in immune function,...

Plastic waste harms the ecosystem

Plastic waste not only pollutes the planet, but also becomes a tremendous influence factor on the environment. With time, plastics eventually will break down into smaller pieces, even on the molecular level, but they are still always plastic, not be altered by natural processes. A report by Greenpeace organization noted that about 70 percent of the plastic waste volume fragmented in the oceans, don't sink to the seabed, but float in the form of extremely small plastic particles.

On the sea, fragmentation process of plastics occurs by waves, friction with sand and oxidation, it may take 450 to 1,000 years. In that process, they release toxic substances toxic substances not available in the seawater. Pollutants are found in the highest concentration in areas of plastic waste accumulation, as giant whirlpools in the ocean.

All marine creatures, from largest to very small organisms, are all capable of absorbing seawater contains toxic chemicals generated by plastic decomposition process. That is a huge danger, causes ecosystem contaminated, especially phytoplankton form the basis of the food chain of all marine animals.

Plastic waste also directly harms both coastal animals and offshore animals. Torn nets discarded or floating plastic membranes have accidentally become the cruel traps, killed thousands of marine creatures each year including seals, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, sea cows, seabirds, sea crabs and other organisms.

In the water, bag or plastic membranes floating around can be mistaken for marine organisms such as jellyfish and squid, as food for other animals. When the plastic is swallowed in the body, it clogs the gastrointestinal tract, or fills the stomach, leads to malnutrition, slowly starving to death, or stuck in windpipe, causes suffocation, death.

The smaller plastic pieces may also create even more dangerous situation for sea creatures that were mistaken for food by marine animals, they are found in the stomach of small sea creatures as fish, birds, marine mammals, reptiles, jellyfish, ...Numerous species of fish are carrying plastic waste in their bodies. When humans eat these ocean fish, the risk of illness due to toxic chemicals, additives in plastics is hard to avoid"- said Prof. Jan Zalasiewicz.

He also noted that:"Just by examining the viscera of marine fish. A relatively large proportion of marine fish currently have plastic in the abdomen. Fishes mistake plastic for food and eat it. After that, only a small amount discharged through feces and sink to the seabed".

In the report "Plastic debris in the world's oceans" issued in 2006, at least 267 different animals have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of debris. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), annually, plastic debris killed about 100,000 marine mammals, along with millions of birds and fish.

Water sources around the world are contaminated with microscopic plastics

Recent research shows that most of the world's water resources have been contained plastic fibers. Time magazine (USA) published outstanding deliverables under the research implemented by Orb Media, a global environmental organization, indicated that approximately 83% of tested water samples from around the world was contained plastic micro-fibers.

Water samples were collected from many countries belonging to the five continents. Specific areas have different percentage of dirty water samples, but figures in all areas, from Europe to Southeast Asia, all showed that at least 70% of water samples contaminated with plastic. Particularly, in the US, water samples had the highest contamination rate, at 94%. Of these "dirty" water samples, there were samples collected at Trump Tower of White House owners and at the headquarters of United States Environmental Protection Agency(!).

Report by Orb Media shows that microfibers entered water sources through many different routes. Sources of plastic discharged include synthetic fibers used in clothing, dust, micro-plastic particles in detergents as well as plastic objects are discharged into water.

With about 300 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year, the plastic pollution of rivers and oceans is increasingly worrying in the scientific community and environmental protection organizations. Previously, concerns about water pollution caused by plastic mainly focused on the impacts on marine lives, seabirds and human food chains. Based on recent researches, it's time for human being to have more vigilance with the impact of microscopic plastics on human health.

"There are things that always stick with our life and they interact with each others, as water, air, soil. If we pollute one of these factors, will affect all the remaining elements", warned Sherri Mason, expert in plastic pollution at University of New York.

By 2050: there will be more plastic waste than fish in the sea

"In terms of weight, by 2050 the oceans would contain more plastic than fish", that's a warning that was made recently at the World Economic Forum.

Amount of plastic consumed has been increased by 20 times in the last 50 years and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. It's estimated that by 2050, amount of plastic produced globally will be tripled, up to 1,124 million tons.

The oceans of the world are suffering by 8 million metric tons of plastic waste more per year. While it takes plastic about 1,000 years to decompose, so if with this momentum then by 2025, for every 3 metric tons of fish there will be one metric ton of plastic waste.

Today, over a quarter of plastics is being used for packaging. This is also the main use of this material. However, only 14% of plastic packaging above is collected for recycling. This reuse rate is extremely low compared to other materials such as paper (58% recycling rate) and 90% in iron.

Nearly a third of plastic packaging is slipped off the waste collection systems. "After the very short first round use, 95% of the value of plastic packaging, is equivalent to $ 80 to $ 120 billion each year, will be lost"- reported by the World Economic Forum. The report was prepared based on interviews conducted with more than 180 experts and the analysis of over 200 relevant reports.

The only solution to avoid disaster is to apply initiatives in reducing the use and recycle plastic garbage, encourage people around the world to collect and recycle plastic waste, using recycled packaging, encourage countries to improve their infrastructures for collecting plastic waste, avoid getting plastic waste into nature.

Collected by M.P.
Compiled b
Hien Pham
Edited by
Thong Nguyen

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