So, it’s Earth Day 2018 today and what does that mean to you and me? Maybe something, maybe not much, but nevertheless it’s here again, and this year’s theme has been very appropriately dedicated to Plastic Pollution. It's also safe to say nothing lights a fire under me like this one. So, this hastily-written blog should possibly come with a warning… this has everything to do with your health and well-being, but if you're looking for light reading (sorry, I do struggle so much with light and fluffy), then please click away, NOW...
With a deep love and respect for our natural world and with a former life as an environmental scientist, the plastic pollution issue is something that has literally kept me awake at night. When, 5 or so years ago, I first read ‘Plastic Ocean’ by Captain Charles Moore, I literally didn’t sleep for 2 weeks. You’d probably have to have been living under a rock the last 3—5 years to not have heard of the issue and the giant plastic islands in the Pacific Gyres (think, big swirling plastic soups!). Perhaps you’ve also heard about the plastic micro-beads issue where we’ve discovered, that for years now, many manufacturers have been putting teeny tiny spheres of plastic in many types of personal care products such as facial scrubs and toothpaste. Who knew? Apart from the obvious health issues from consuming plastic; we thankfully won’t stop here to examine that… no time. Due to their small size, these tiny bits of plastic (with an uncanny resemblance to fish eggs), have been passing through our sewage treatment plants to accumulate in our aquatic systems where they are promptly eaten up and enter the food chain and/or become lodged permanently in sediment layers. Unsurprisingly, plastic microbeads won't go down in history as one of our greatest achievements. Recently banned in the US, Australia has chosen industry self-regulation, rather than legislating against the manufacturing of these products. So they are still on our supermarket shelves and you may even find some in your bathroom right now. Check out Ban the Bead
Similarly, micro-plastics, the ever-increasing smaller bits of plastic formed in our environment as larger bits inevitably decay (plastics don’t decompose, they just drift about and break down into infinitely smaller pieces forever) are inherently toxic and pose risks on many levels. It's possible to argue that due to the inherent toxicity and the additional heavy metal toxins they attract like magnets in the environment, the impacts of micro-plastics are arguably at least as harmful, if not more so, that any heavy metal contamination, or banned man-made persistent organics like PCB. This is due in part to the ubiquitous nature of plastic in our environment. It is simply everywhere we turn in our environment.
I'm sure you've heard the figures that have been picked up by the media in recent years. With no action and with the predicted rate of plastic ‘leakage’ to the ocean (the majority of which is single-use packaging), by 2050 there will be at least as much plastic by weight in the ocean as fish. This means that plastic (and micro-plastics) will be utterly unavoidable in the oceanic environment and therefore will form a part of the diet of many, if not all, ocean-living organisms. This is of grave concern, for many reasons, not just because it can kill individual animals due to their toxic load they carry, or accumulate in the stomach and cause starvation, but because it can permanently interfere with their ability to reproduce due to the ability of plastics to act as hormone disruptors. The ability to act as a synthetic hormone mimic and upset the exquisitely delicate endocrine signalling that underlies our health has been well known for some time. But that is a deeply-charged topic and perhaps a discussion for another day.
So on this Earth Day 2018, I encourage everyone to acknowledge the power we have to help stem this tide of plastic waste and reimagine a future possibly even without this ubiquitous material? This power lies in the choices we make every day about what we choose to spend our hard-earned dollars on. The food we eat, the packaging we accept or don’t accept, the goods we buy, the materials we build and furnish our houses with. By making more conscious choices we can change entire industries. If there is no market for it, they will stop making it. It’s as simple as that. If we all begin acting more consciously… we can create a future that looks very different to one we are racing towards right now. It's absolutely possible and we're really left with no other choice.
If you haven't already and you’re interested in helping make some changes, here’s some ideas and links. There are some fantastically interesting blogs and stories out there that provide inspiration. And it's worth noting that many of the below links are local Perth or WA initiatives.
For a deeper understanding of the issue… read or watch the move, ‘Plastic Ocean’ by Captain Charles Moore
I'm sure any changes you do make (no matter how small!) will be greatly appreciated by both our grandchildren's children and Mother Earth.
Happy Earth Day 2018 folks.