The sun glinted on its shiny surface and caught my attention on the rocks as I walked on the lakeshore path this morning. It was a clear-plastic Starbucks-type cup half-filled with a rose-coloured liquid. Maybe an iced tea? But the problem was the drinker was nowhere to be seen. It was garbage left behind.
Last week, it was four Tim Horton coffee cups strewn across the parking lot. And a few days before it was an empty bottle from “spring water” left on the walking path.
What goes on in the brains of the people who litter like this? Is it because they have parents or nannies who follow them around at home and pick up after them? Are they naïve enough to think that this stuff just melts away or dissolves in a rain storm leaving no traces? Do they think that leaving it behind is like dropping a few crumbs when you are having lunch – the birds or strolling dogs will clean it up?
What possesses people to be such slobs? Why don’t they have more self-respect and/or respect for our environment?
It’s bad enough that the lakeshore is littered with plastic bags and debris that is blown by the wind from the garbage bins of nearby homes, businesses and parks. But the type of garbage that I am talking about is “deliberate litter” caused by thoughtless people. And the responsibility to clean it up then falls on the conscientious citizens who use the paths for enjoyment. Or the garbage becomes pollution that none of the world can afford to allow to continue.
It’s time to stop and think about the damage we are doing.
The problem is that everyone thinks it doesn’t matter “because it doesn’t affect me”. It won’t change my life if seabirds eat the Tim Horton’s cup. I’m not bothered if the microplastics end up in the fish in Lake Ontario because I don’t eat those fish anyway. It won’t impact me if the ingested plastics make their way up the food chain and cause mysterious illnesses to the next generation. So why should I care?
But it does matter! The planet Earth is facing unknown future risks because of our thoughtless behaviour today. We are only starting to see the ramifications of our carelessness and we have no idea of the impact it will have on our grandchildren’s lives or their grandchildren. While scientists are trying to educate us of the dangers to our planet, people blithely throw our empty disposable drink containers on the ground and go home to sleep. Maybe someone else will pick up the trash in the morning. And if they don’t, most people probably think – “a little plastic won’t hurt anyone”.
That has to change. It’s time for everyone of us to do our share to “save the planet”.
The Studies about plastics and our environment
Studies show that not only birds and fish swallow the plastic but the animals that prey on them also have plastics in their bellies and bloodstreams. How long before we find the evidence of microplastics in our own bellies and blood?
Here are a few facts to consider:
Microplastics are small plastic fragments that have accumulated in the marine environment following decades of pollution. These fragments can cause significant issues for marine organisms that ingest them, including inflammation, reduced feeding and weight-loss. Microplastic contamination may also spread from organism to organism when prey is eaten by predators. Since the fragments can bind to chemical pollutants, these associated toxins could accumulate in predator species.
Plastic is a versatile, durable, and widely used material, with countless applications including in packaging, construction, textiles, and electronics. Globally, plastic production has risen rapidly over the past 60 years and we currently produce over 299 million tonnes per annum. Increasingly plastics are being used to manufacture single-use items (e.g., food and beverage packaging), which is resulting in vast amounts of plastic waste
being produced every year. While the majority of this waste is discarded via land fill, incinerated, or recycled, immense quantities of improperly disposed plastic waste are entering the aquatic environment via littering, sewage, runoff, landfill leachates, and illegal dumping.
Plastic debris has impinged on freshwater and marine ecosystems across the globe, including lakes, shelf-seas, midoceanic atolls, deep-sea sediments, and polar ice. Over 630 species, including fish, turtles, cetaceans, seabirds, bivalves, and crustaceans, have been recorded interacting with plastic debris. Ingestion of microscopic plastic fragments and fibers may cause physical harm, such as gut blockages or intestinal perforation, or facilitate the transfer of persistent organic pollutants or toxic additives to the organism.
Furthermore, the uptake of plastics by oyster larvae may represent a route by which plastics can enter the food web at large.
The potential for biomagnification of plastic particulates up the food chain is of particular concern for organisms at higher trophic levels, seafood biosecurity, and ultimately human health.
Scientists have been tracking plastic ingestion by seabirds for decades. In 1960, plastic was found in the stomachs of fewer than five percent, but by 1980, it had jumped to 80 percent.
The most disturbing finding, Wilcox says, is the link between the increasing rate of plastics manufacturing and the increasing rate at which the material is saturating seabirds.
“Global plastic production doubles every 11 years,” Wilcox says. “So in the next 11 years, we’ll make as much plastic as we’ve made since plastic was invented. Seabirds’ ingestion of plastic is tracking with that.”
A recent study found a 67 percent decline in seabird populations between 1950 and 2010.
The researchers caught mesopelagic fish at varying depths, then examined their stomachs for microplastics back in the lab. They used a specialized air filter so as not to introduce airborne plastic fibers from the lab environment.
The team found a wide array of microplastics in the fish stomachs — with a whopping 73% of the fish having ingested the pollutants. “We recorded one of the highest frequencies of microplastics among fish species globally,” says Wieczorek. “In particular, we found high levels of plastic fibers such as those used in textiles.”
I hope the next time I am walking down the lakeshore path in the morning, there won’t be any debris for me to pick up. But if there is, I will pick it up because I care more about the world that I am leaving my grandchildren than the inconsiderate person who left it behind the night before while they enjoyed a beautiful sunset on Lake Ontario.
What are your suggestions for stopping this pollution from happening?