In 2003, we declared war on Iraq after accusing Saddam Hussein of harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In the meantime, real WMD have been growing exponentially in our oceans. Disposable plastic debris is wreaking havoc on marine life and contaminating our seafood supply.
And the world’s governments stand idly by.
Quoting Capt. Charles Moore, the sea captain who first discovered The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean: “The world is awash in plastic. We wrap it around the food we eat and virtually every other product that we consume or use. Disposable plastic products pose a threat to all marine life.”
Marine scientists estimate that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.
The amounts of disposable plastic products we use are staggering. In the U.S. alone, we use 100 billion plastic bags and 50 billion plastic bottles every year; 500 million plastic straws every day; and nearly 3 million styrofoam coffee cups hour!
It is well known that plastic litter can entangle and drown millions of sea creatures. But after the plastic enters the ocean, it slowly breaks down into tiny pieces so small they often can’t be seen by the naked eye. Hundreds of species mistake these micro plastics for natural food, causing slow, painful deaths. In 2002, a dead minke whale washed up on the coast of Normandy with nearly a ton of plastic in its stomach. In 2008, two sperm whales stranded on the California coast had more than 400 pounds of plastic bags in their intestines.
More recently, an emaciated whale in Norway had to be shot to take it out of its misery. About 30 large plastic bags were removed from the its organs.
We have no idea how many other creatures die and sink to the bottom of the ocean. And we do not know how much harm is being done to humans. But we know lantern fish, plankton and krill eat immeasurable amounts of plastic particulates and their contaminants. These bait fish are devoured by larger fish and quickly passed along the food chain - ultimately ending up on our dinner plates.
We can dramatically reduce our use of plastic by refusing to use disposable plastic products, and we must recycle whatever residual plastic we continue to use. We can help with beach and ocean clean-ups. But these activities are only Band-Aids.
As Capt. Moore said years ago: “The reality is that only by preventing disposable plastic products from getting into the ocean in the first place will a measurable reduction in the ocean’s plastic load be accomplished.”
While our government continues to protect the American people from possible overseas threats, it ignores the real threats posed by domestic industries who are enabling havoc in our oceans.
It is way past time to declare war on plastic before it is too late.
Until governments wake up, the public can help by joining www.breakfreefromplastic.org.
The writer lives in Pawleys Island.