There's no denying it at this point. Plastic water pollution has rapidly become a global crisis that seems to have no clear answer in sight. The evidence of plastic water pollution is everywhere. Plastics are in our oceans, lakes, and tap water. Most alarmingly, even bottled water is suspect now. The bottles of water people drink to avoid contaminants have traces of microplastics. According to a new study, the microplastics are less than 5mm in diameter.
Then, of course, there are the swirling gyres of trash in the middle of the ocean. These trash islands, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the floating waste off the coast of Honduras, are both ugly and alarming. Not only do masses of plastic and trash tangled together off our international coasts harm tourism, they also harm delicate marine life. Turtles, whales, dolphins, fish, and seabirds ingest plastic, which remains in their stomachs. Waste sinks and suffocates coral reefs and delicate ecosystems, causing dead zones where no life can grow. So how can we tackle such a large and growing problem?
Addressing Plastic Water Pollution
Scientists and educators believe that given enough time, the Earth will clear the oceans out itself. However, the presence and production of even more plastics is the major problem. Plastic, such as single-use and disposable items typically wind up buried in landfills or floating in our oceans. Unfortunately, the global recycling trade is not helping. There is less profitability in recycling, illegal dumping is on the rise and a major player in world recycling has bowed out.
China, who used to take on the recyclables for many Western countries is refusing to continue the practice. China will not accept foreign trash any longer. The country cites environmental damage and neglect from American states and European countries to sort and clean the recyclables before they ship. This end of their services has left many in the West scrambling to figure out what to do with mountains of plastic recyclables that are stacking up.
Looking to the Future
The most effective fix would appear to be tackling the problem at its' source. Since single-use plastics are what are clogging the majority of landfills, recycling plants, and oceans, these should be phased out. Taxes on plastic bags and outright bans throughout the world have proven to be successful, and governments should follow suit on disposable flatware, cutlery, bottles and more. Incentives and grants should be awarded to inventors looking to actively combat this problem. A fine example is the competition Starbucks is hosting for inventors to create a fully compostable cup. This practice should be encouraged and rewarded in large corporations. Active promotion to change the face of disposable plastics is a great way to turn the tide from convenience to care.
To preserve Earth and its' oceans for future generations, it's important to emphasize recycling and conservation in the classroom. When our global youth understand the practice and purpose of recycling and conservation, they will help change the world for the better where previous generations failed.