The Plastic Epidemic
Single-use plastics are part of our everyday lives: food packaging, straws, and water bottles to name a few. In 2016, every person in the world consumed around 300 pounds of single-use plastics. According to the documentary, A Plastic Ocean, 63 billion gallons of oil are used every year to supply the U.S. with plastic water bottles; over 90% of those bottles are used only once. The U.S. alone disposes of 38 billion bottles per year, which is equivalent to 2 million tonnes of plastic discarded in the landfill. These plastics end up on land or in the ocean gyres.
Scientists estimate that there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans worldwide. 12,000 feet down in the ocean, a submarine spotted plastics lining the ocean floors. This included tires, metal, plastic bottles, fishing lines, and parachutes. Additionally, there were crabs and fish inhabiting these man-made materials. There are 5 major ocean gyres around the world. When materials get caught in the water flow, they compile in the center of the gyre creating a plastic smog or the so-called “plastic islands”. The plastic smog that lines the top of the ocean is created by pieces of plastic that have been broken down from sunlight, waves, and salt. These pieces are called micro-plastics. Micro-plastics have rough surfaces which allow for toxins to stick onto them, making them poisonous and extremely dangerous. Plankton consume micro-plastics, larger fish eat plankton, and the plastic makes its way to the top of the food chain. In 2016, the North Atlantic had 3,440 metric tons of micro-plastics in the gyre. A study from 2019 proved that “If you melted down enough Arctic ice to fill a one-gallon milk jug, it might contain as many as 53,000 shreds of micro-plastic. Those micro-plastics may have fallen as snow, but they arrived in the Arctic through the atmosphere. The study shows that micro-plastics, shorn from human products and carried by global trade winds, are now accumulating in some of the harshest, most remote places on Earth.”
In the United States, less than 7% of our plastics are recycled, regardless of if you put them in the recycling bin. Plastic is everywhere, including in our daily toiletries. Micro-beads are now banned, but were used in facial scrubs, toothpaste, and cosmetics. They are a huge part of the ocean micro-plastic epidemic. However, there are things that people can do to help. Visit the Take Action page to help make a difference.
Written by: Kaia Mateo
A Plastic Ocean Documentary
Meyer, Robinson. “A Worrisome Discovery in High Arctic Snowfall.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, August 14, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/08/microplastic-air-pollution-real/596119/.
Cohen, Dianna. TED. Accessed October 9, 2019. https://www.ted.com/talks/dianna_cohen_tough_truths_about_plastic_pollution/up-next?language=en.
Save the Coral Reef
The oceans are currently struggling to keep its coral reef around due too many chemicals found in your sunscreen. Through the years human have been polluting the ocean by "14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year; 82,000 chemicals from personal-care products may be tainting the seas; about 80 percent of corals in the Caribbean have been lost in the last 50 years due to pollution, coastal development, and warming waters." Because of the temperature of the ocean rising they can "cause coral to stress and expel their zooxanthellae (a process known as bleaching, as explained above). Without zooxanthellae, corals are susceptible to illness and death." What this does is not give the coral reef enough time to recover from between bleaching periods. There has been study conducted by Scientist, Terry P. Hughes where he compared 100 different coral reefs around the world and noticed that the average interval between bleaching periods is now less than half what it was before.
Even though these tragic events are happening to our coral reef, many places like Hawaii have banned the use of harmful sunscreens. The coral reef is an essential part of our oceans because "They help prevent coastal erosion, offer protection from storm surge, and support jobs ranging from fishing to tourism. It's estimated that the economic value of coral reefs is at least $30 billion per year, but most likely much higher, and more than 500 million people worldwide rely on coral reefs for food, income, coastal protection, and more."
Instead of using harmful sunscreens that can hurt our environment and the home of many sea creatures, we recommend you use these alternatives. Let's save the coral reef one step at a time!
Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen - it is water-resistant for up 80 minutes and is absorbed easily by your skin.
Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 - Natural Zinc Sunscreen - This zinc-based sunscreen is enriched with local Hawaiian spirulina, plumeria extract, honey and kukui nut oil.
Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen - This vegan sunscreen is great for people with sensitive skin and for kids. This sunscreen does not contain, parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, mineral oil, synthetic dyes, sulfates, nanoparticles and chemical UV absorbers. Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen contains, organic green tea extract, cucumber extract, and pomegranate seed oil.
Written By: Fernando Azpurua
Alternatives: Why Bamboo is Better
Bamboo is a better option than plastic for many reasons. First off, according to the Guinness World Records, "The world record for the fastest growing plant belongs to certain species of the 45 genera of bamboo, which have been found to grow at up to 91 cm (35 in) per day or at a rate of 0.00003 km/h (0.00002 mph)." This means that it is very sustainable and reliable. The cultivation of bamboo is also natural so the process is better for the environment as well. Next, bamboo is very durable so it can be used to construct various things including houses! For example, you use your plastic toothbrush everyday but a bamboo toothbrush can last the same amount of time with proper care. When you are done with your plastic toothbrush, you throw it out and it disappears forever right? Wrong. According to National Geographic, 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown out each year in the United States and each one takes 400 years to completely biodegrade. It lasts on Earth for generations and generations. Bamboo toothbrushes on the other hand are biodegradable. If there are composed of properly they can biodegrade as early 4 months! Bamboo is the better option for toothbrushes and every other thing as well. Get bamboo plates instead of plastic ones or bamboo straws instead of plastic ones. There are so many things to do. Start making well educated decisions and help this planet you inhabit.
Written by: Kaia Mateo
“Fastest Growing Plant.” Guinness World Records. Accessed May 15, 2020. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/fastest-growing-plant/.
Clark, Matt. “How To Dispose of a Bamboo Toothbrush Properly.” BAMWOO bamboo, November 19, 2018. https://bamwoo-bamboo.com/blogs/the-bamwoo-blog/how-to-dispose-of-biodegradable-bamboo-toothbrush.
Whitaker, Hannah. “How Your Toothbrush Became a Part of the Plastic Crisis.” Your plastic toothbrush is a bigger problem than you realize, October 18, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/06/story-of-plastic-toothbrushes/.
Ocean Circulation and Temperature
Have you ever wondered what is happening to our oceans due to climate change? In Avenues the World School tenth graders are currently learning about Ocean Circulation and Temperature. In this video Julius Josephson goes in depth about how global warming is affecting the economy, fishing and fish migration.
https://www.loom.com/share/18e2b32a0fb648b89b274b2c35029ccb - Julius Josephson
DIY Plastic Free Kit
“by 2050 we will have more plastic in our ocean than fish” Have you over read the news and seen this and have gotten really worried? If you have, take a stand and help us fight ocean debris. Here is our guide to putting together a Plastic Free Kit which you will carry around everywhere.
Grab a clean pencil case or small bag
Put your utensils in the bag
knife (if you want)
Put your reusable straw in
Put a small rolled up shopping bag in
Put a reusable napkin in
This is a little version of a DIY Plastic Free Kit. It's a great step in the right direction. Now when you're out with friends and you stop by a store to grab a quick lunch use your rolled up shopping bag if your on the go. If not, you get to use your reusable utensils instead of the plastic ones to eat. Go you!
Written by: Kaia Mateo
Microplastics in Laundry
Doing laundry adds to the plastic epidemic? How? I was very confused when I first learned about this crazy fact as well. Sadly, it's true. According to Peter Ross, vice president of Ocean Wise in Vancouver, scientists have discovered that microfibers are one of the leading causes of plastic pollution. So what is a microfiber? Microfibers are plastic fibers that shed off of textiles. These textiles can be rugs, clothing, cigarette butts, and so on. These microfibers end up in the air, dust, the sewage, and eventually the ocean. They are everywhere. They are one of most dangerous microplastics. A study examining microplastics in common consumables worldwide revealed saddening and alarming data: 81% of their tap water samples contained human-made microplastics, and over 98% of that plastic waste was microfibers. In a Harvard article the author stated, "all the sea salts (commonly used in home and restaurant cooking) and commercial beers they sampled contained plastic waste, and 98-99% of that waste was microfibers" and that microfibers are especially dangerous because, "their shape and material makes them good at acting as sponges that harmful chemical pollutants, including carcinogenic dyes, can attach to." Scientists haven't yet discovered the health consequences on human bodies but it sure isn't healthy. Microfibers are harming animals, nature, and us.
Written by: Kaia Mateo
Microplastics in the Hudson River
The Hudson River might be right outside your window, a few miles away, or thousands of miles away. In any case, you should take the time to learn about this. Microplastics aren't visible to the eye. They are extremely tiny pieces of plastic that pollute the planet. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, microplastics are any type of plastic fragment that is less than 5 mm in length. Every year Hudson River Park’s Estuary Lab leads a study on microplastics in the Hudson River Waters. In 2018 they found "an average concentration of 578,333 microplastics per km² in Hudson River Park’s estuarine sanctuary". These results are three times greater than 2016 statistics and five times greater than 2017 findings. They supposed it was from the increase in rainfall. In the Arctic "If you melted down enough Arctic ice to fill a one-gallon milk jug, it might contain as many as 53,000 shreds of microplastic." When it snows or rains microplastics fall down with it. The Hudson River isn't the only body of water infected with plastic. Learn about the river near you and figure out what you can do to help.
Written by: Kaia Mateo