One of the biggest battles involving the effect of humans on animals is that of garbage. It seems that everything we do can end up killing unsuspecting creatures. From birds choking on balloons, cigarette butts, and plastic bags, the horror stories abound. Long have soda can rings been the blame for fish and dolphin deaths. It sometimes seems like plastics are the cause of most of the evil in the world.
The diatribes against waste only go so far though. One might resolve to “waste less” and “recycle more”, but what do these goals entail? Do they result in any measurable decrease in waste? Do they have an effect?
After all, while listening to these statistics, don’t most of us picture an ominous island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean? And I don’t know about you, but I don’t throw my garbage into the ocean. So I’m not really part of the problem. These lectures are for “other people.” Wasters.
Now, most of us know that for the most part, people don’t dump their kitchen trash into the ocean. But it is hard to motivate action when the problem seems so far away. Below, I have outlined ways that garbage gets to where it harms wildlife and actionable steps to prevent it.
From Superstorm Sandy to the Tsunamis in Japan to Hurricane Katrina, natural disasters are a big part of how garbage ends up in the ocean. We obviously can’t prevent natural disasters, but we can minimize their impact by building sturdier structures and keeping garbage in more durable containers. These are large-scale changes though. In everyday life, you might not be able to prevent storm-caused ocean pollution. You can help clean up what’s already there though. There have been some great stories about beach cleanups and other projects dedicated to minimizing pollution.
Scientists will tell you (and they’re right), that a lot of the waste in the ocean is too small to be seen from a distance or be easily removed with nets and the like (source: http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-news/ocean-trash-plaguing-our-sea). But if we start with what is able to be removed, that’s at least preventing the problem from getting worse.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of oceanic litter is directly dumped into waterways. Though Ocean Dumping was made illegal in 1972, many try to get away with dumping both toxic and non-toxic materials in the ocean. Plastics alone can release toxic materials as they decompose (source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120417102506.htm). These chemicals get consumed by wildlife. In March, a whale washed up in Spain with 37 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Marine birds and fish are also often found with plastic waste or chemicals from plastic waste in their systems.
The most effective way to battle this is to leverage your wallet. Don’t buy from companies with a reputation for environmentally dangerous habits.
- Check into what waste-centered legislation is being considered in your area. Make your opinions known. Letters to legislators still hold some weight.
- Reduce your own waste. Buy garbage bags with less plastic in them. Compost your food waste. The less individuals send to landfills, the less landfills will have to deal with disposing of.
- Get involved in community events. Whether it’s a town or beach clean-up or an awareness event, volunteering your time and knowledge goes a long way.
- Use your next vacation as a eco-mission. Instead of a cruise, participate in an ocean clean-up.
There’s no doubt that the state of our oceans is harming both wildlife and the future of humanity. After all, what the fish eat cycles back into our diets. In order to fully combat the issue, it is necessary to both clean up the mess that already exists while preventing future pollution. Look into Boyan Slat’s proposal into effectively cleaning the oceans.
What solutions do you seen, both big-picture and on an individual basis? Share in the comments below.
About the Author: Ernie Allison is a nature writer with a particular interest in conservation. In addition to being involved with several citizen science programs, he also writes about the environment, from protecting endangered species to the environmental benefits of birdfeeders.