Speaking to Salon in April, John Hocevar – Greenpeace USA’s Oceans Campaign Director – brought the horrors of plastic pollution to life by describing one of its more heartbreaking consequences: the suffering it inflicts on innocent marine life.
“We saw pictures of whales with their stomachs full of plastic bags or sea turtles with straws in their noses or dead albatrosses with stomachs full of bottle caps and lighters and other pieces of plastic,” explains Hocevar. “Sharks and turtles bite out of a plastic bottle at sea, or sea turtles often get caught in or choke on plastic bags because plastic bags can resemble jellyfish, an important source of food.”
Now, a report on plastic pollution authored by Pew Charitable Trusts and approved by the UN Secretary-General states that the world must take drastic measures to ensure that no new plastic enters the oceans by 2050, a key goal of Dec. is countries and the European Union. The report was published in conjunction with a peer-reviewed analysis of “an evidence-based, comprehensive, integrated and economically attractive way to significantly reduce plastic pollution in our oceans” published in Science. The report describes itself as a “road map” to reduce plastic pollution around the world to the point that the oceans no longer suffer.
Unfortunately, humanity is still a long way from achieving this goal, the report claims, offering eight steps to turn things around. These steps include “reducing the growth in plastic consumption”, “replacing plastics with suitable alternative materials”, “developing products and packaging for recycling”, “increasing waste collection rates in the global south”, “increasing mechanical recycling capacities worldwide”, “scale “increase the global chemical conversion capacity”, “build safe waste disposal facilities” and “reduce exports of plastic waste”.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, chairman of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee responsible for environmental justice, waste management, and chemical safety, introduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act earlier this year to help put America on the path to a sustainable future. He later told Salon that he is pushing for this legislation because “if we carry on as we have done before, the air we breathe, the soil we use to grow our food and the water that countless communities rely on will become , only more and more polluted – seriously endangering the health of Americans, especially in colored and low-income communities. “
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Aside from the effects of plastic pollution on large marine animals, plastic pollution has a myriad of other effects on human health and wildlife. The prevalence of synthetic polymers, both on land and in the ocean, has been linked to falling sperm counts, as well as the incidence of cancer and immune diseases. Studies have shown that the ocean contains more microplastics than zooplankton (an important part of the oceans food chain). A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum even predicts that there will be more plastic waste than fish in our oceans by 2050.
In fact, perhaps the greatest threat plastic pollution poses to humans is the reduction in sperm counts. Synthetic polymers contain a number of chemicals that act as “endocrine disruptors,” which means that they disrupt the healthy functioning of the glands that produce hormones. These endocrine disruptors are linked to declining sperm counts that have persisted since the 1970s and which, if continued unabated, could result in males becoming infertile.