When It Comes to Marine Plastic Pollution, We Aren’t Off the Hook Yet

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Kennedy McGrath
A laptop and an iPad, both featuring a screencap of MapMaster 2.0.

EarthDay.org reports that every minute, two garbage trucks of plastics are dumped into the world’s oceans.1 Marine plastic pollution is an ongoing issue that affects everyone, whether you live on the coast or not. Waste we release into the ocean can affect our food, water, health, and economy. We all have a responsibility to make small changes in our lives and use our vote to help reduce the amount of plastic that enters our ocean every year. Since June is National Oceans Month, there is no better time to reevaluate your consumption habits and educate yourself on this global issue.

Before making any major changes to our lifestyle, it is important to educate ourselves on the impacts of plastic pollution. Plastic in the ocean can harm marine life, which can have effects that are felt throughout the food chain. As noted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, seafood accounts for 20% of the world’s protein intake so it is important to protect and maintain the wild fish and shellfish populations we depend on.2 Aquaculture, a seafood farming practice meant to provide more food and ease strain on wild populations, isn’t safe from plastic pollution either. Many enclosures are housed in open water where waste can flow freely in and out. In addition to threatening a major food supply, plastic also has negative economic implications related to tourism in many countries that rely on it as their largest economic sector. We should all make it a priority to learn how plastic waste affects our home and what changes can be made to protect it.  

What We Can Do About Plastic 

The first and most obvious change you can make is to refuse single use plastics whenever possible. This can be things like plastic cutlery, straws, bottles, and bags, many of which are the most abundant types of plastic waste in the ocean today. Items like these can harm marine life when they ingest it mistaking it for food. Preliminary research indicates that the chemicals in the ingested plastic can make it to humans with undetermined health effects. Instead, consider alternatives like reusable grocery bags made from recycled materials and reusable metal cutlery and straws. Using a reusable water bottle also goes a long way to mitigate plastic waste, and many public spaces have installed water bottle filling stations to encourage the use of reusable bottles. Though it can feel like we are just one small part of a much larger, more problematic whole, your individual actions matter. You can reduce your own plastic footprint while inspiring others to do the same until environmentally conscious actions have spread to everyone, catalyzing major change.  

Your Vote Matters 

Beyond your personal consumption habits, your vote can make a huge difference in the fight to end marine pollution. Use your voice to tell your representatives and senators to support environmentally friendly laws so they can be passed faster. When laws are passed that regulate plastic production and use, change happens more quickly than if a small group of consumers refuses it. If we can set an example as a nation, starting with each local government, we have the power to set a precedent that can spark change all over the world. This is when education on the issue becomes extremely important. An informed voter is dramatically more impactful than the alternative. 

By the time you’ve finished reading this article, six more garbage trucks of plastic have been added to the same ocean we all share. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and disconnected in the face of a problem this grand, but in reality, it is no bigger than the plastic straw in your cup or the bag you use for groceries. We all have the power to make one small change every day that will make a world of difference. Educate yourself, make responsible consumption choices, and vote for environmentally friendly policies that can make big change fast. Remember that others are standing with you, from Pacific to Atlantic, and beyond.  

Want to see visuals of marine pollution areas across the world? Check out MapMaster 2.0, an interactive digital mapping tool that helps students develop geographic literacy, spatial reasoning, and critical thinking skills by examining patterns and relationships across regional and global datasets. 

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