We are a society of consumers, with more and more products being made so that we can dispose of them. From plastic bottles to paper plates the number of items that get made only to get thrown away is astonishing. It’s then no surprise that many of these items find their way in our oceans – destroying the animal life and their natural habitats. We take a look at just how much of our waste is affecting the ocean.
What waste goes into the oceans?
Compared to other countries, South Africa is one of the worst when it comes to plastic wastage. In the list of 20 countries that generated the highest amounts of “mismanaged plastic waste”, South Africa came in at number 11. This was worse than the entire United States, India and 23 European countries.
If we look at the top ten marine litter items collected worldwide between 1986 and 2011, the order was cigarettes/cigarette filters, food wrappers/containers, caps/lids, cutlery, plastic bottles, plastic bags, glass bottles, beverage cans, straws/stirrers and then rope.
This amount of plastic and other waste will only keep growing for the next 80 years, especially in Africa and other developing nations where it will result in an almost permanent contamination of our natural environment.
So how does this affect the creatures living in the oceans?
Our litter has a huge effect on ocean life, impacting on the ecosystems that depend on the ocean environment for shelter and food. Wastage can cause diseases as well as killing and injuring birds, marine mammals and fish as they get entangled in litter. Many fish and marine life also end up dying more frequently from eating microplastics (tiny fragments of plastic washed into the ocean).
What can we do about this?
The only way that we can permanently reduce our waste is to tackle it at the source by reducing the amount of disposable plastic that is produced and dumped in our oceans. As an individual, if you live near the ocean you can help out by joining beach cleanup groups and by recycling your own wastage.
There is a lot of work to be done if we want to improve the quality of our oceans. There is only so much we can do, but we can always start at an individual level. Talk to your friends and family about it, join beach cleanups and do your own recycling.