Category: Projects 2017 / Research Briefs
Marine Plastic Pollution – Anny
A. History of Plastic
The term “plastic” originally meant “pliable and easily shaped”, while now it is the name of “polymer.” The first synthetic polymer as a substitute of ivory was created by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869 made by celluloid. At that time, it was not only a humans’ big breakthrough which people were no longer constrained by limited natural resources, but also decreasing the damage to elephants and tortoises. Then, the first fully synthetic plastic, Bakelite having no molecules found in nature was invented by Leo Baekeland in 1907. It was also called “the material of a thousand uses.” But it was not widely used until WWII; the adaptability of plastic on cost, safety, sanitary issue was continuously demonstrated to the world. During WWII, the production of plastic in the U.S. increased by 300%.
B. Usage of Plastic Bags Now
The birth of plastic bags happened at the end of the 19th century made totally accidentally by a German scientist, Hans von Pechmann. He created a material called polythene, one of the world’s most widely used and controversial materials then. The widely known polythene by modern society was invented by ICI’s Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson in 1933. Two years later, ICI developed the production of this material to industrial scale. Not until the rise of British supermarket in the 1950s, it was mass manufacturing. Nowadays, in the US, there are over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks, and wraps consumed each year. The Wall Street Journal indicates that annually, there are 100 billion plastic shopping bags used in the US and costing retailers 4 billion dollars. To a larger scope, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year.
C. Marine Plastic Pollution
In the 1970s and 1980s when peoples’ anxiety of waste arose, plastic became a special target. “While so many plastic products are disposable, plastic lasts forever in the environment.”(History of Plastic) Among those, grocery-store plastic bags became the aim of some activists because they cost 1000 years to rot to nothing but were used for only 15 minutes at the average. In the 1960s, a decade in which Americans got more awareness on environmental problems, Plastic debris in the oceans was first observed. Plastic bags can be found everywhere to the north of the Arctic Circle to the south to the Falkland. Ironically, there is even an area in the sea called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” which is in a size of Texas. Until now, plastic pollution in the ocean has at least impacted 267 species in the world, including 86 % of all sea turtle species, 44 % of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species. The influences contain fatalities as a result of ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement. The plastic industry, through the leadership of the American Chemical Council (ACC), keeps convincing policymakers that solutions to plastic pollution locate in anti-litter campaigns that attribute the responsibility for marine debris on individual behavior.
D. Truth of Damages to Marine Creatures
- Sea Turtle
Some sea turtles take jellyfish as their food. However, unluckily, they cannot tell the differences between a plastic bag and a jellyfish. Therefore, they often accidentally eat plastic bags and as a result, consume plastic particles which may influence their health in a negative way or are entangled by the bags
Horribly, some sea turtles are found existing with bodily deformity. They were trapped by plastic waste when they were young and grew up in that inelastic material. In addition, those not recyclable plastic straws are found in the nostril of some turtles.
In 2010, a California grey whale was found dead on the shores of the Puget Sound in the U.S. state of Washington. Autopsies mentioned that there were a pair of pants and a golf ball, more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, duct tape and surgical gloves found in its stomach.
E. Findings Summary
Because of this short working life of plastic products before being discarded compared with the long degrading time, the accumulation of the plastic garbage is getting more apparent and thus has injurious impacts on other species. Nevertheless, nowadays, we still have no intention when we are using this vast amount of disposable plastic products. Without intention as well, when marine creatures are drinking, eating or swimming just like usual, they are hurt by plastic trash in the ocean which comes from human beings.