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ESI Field Report

Important call: plastics kill!

"The ocean is like a soup of plastic mostly composed of fragments invisible to the human eyes, killing life and affecting dangerously our health." Pierre Fidenci, ESI President.

Since 1950, plastics have played an omnipresent part of our daily lives. They are everywhere and globally we use more than 260 million tons of plastic each year. Most of the marine debris in the world is comprised of plastic materials (between 60 to 80% of total marine debris). Field studies have shown that mega- and macro-plastics have concentrated in the highest densities in the Northern Hemisphere, adjacent to urban areas, in enclosed seas and at water convergences. The longevity of some plastics is estimated to be hundreds to thousands of years!

The environmental impacts resulting from the accumulation of plastic waste are huge and increasing. Plastic debris affects wildlife, human health, and the environment. The millions of tons of plastic bottles, bags, and garbage in the world's oceans are breaking down and leaching toxins posing a threat to marine life and human. Plastic materials in landfills sink in harmful chemicals into groundwater. Chemicals added to plastics are dangerously absorbed by humans like altering hormones. Research on plastics includes a large and robust literature reporting adverse health effects in laboratory animals and wildlife at even low doses. Plastic debris is ingested by hundreds of species choking and starving them. Floating plastic debris can spread invasive species.

The current mass packaging and other short-lived applications of plastic is simply not sustainable and acceptable. There are solutions, including material reduction, design for end-of-life recyclability, increased recycling capacity, development of bio-based feedstocks, strategies to reduce littering, and the change of consumer behavior. Consumers are a major actor and can minimize or eliminate the use of short-lived applications of plastic (e.g., water bottle, plastic bags). There is some urgency, as the quantity of plastics produced in the first 10 years of this century is likely to approach the quantity produced in the entire last century!

Support our campaign to increase awareness amongst youth and adults about the impacts of plastics on wildlife, human, and environment. Our campaign aims to encourage "green behavior and responsible choices" by avoiding the use of short-lived applications of plastic. We also need to convince governments and businesses for reducing considerably the use of plastics for superficial and short-live applications. The true costs of plastics including the energy required to manufacture them, the environmental contamination, their health impacts, and the recycling should be reflected in product prices!

The chemical industry itself needs to replace persistent and hazardous chemicals with those that are proven to be safe. Manufacturers and consumers should take responsibility for cleaning up environmental contamination from the more than one trillion pounds of plastic wastes they have allowed over the past 60 years.

What can you do?

Avoid using single-use and disposable plastics like bags and bottles, straws, cups, plates, silverware and razors.

Reduce waste: buy in bulk, buy vegetables and legumes without prepackaging, and look for products and packaging made from renewable resources. Choose products that have the least amount of disposable parts like toothbrushes with replaceable brushes. Consuming less will decrease the waste of unnecessary plastics. Become a responsible consumer!

Reuse preferably nontoxic (glass, stainless steel) containers and goods to make less waste.

Recycle is the last option! Be aware that many plastics are not recyclable and are accidentally lost into waterways and oceans. Further, in most countries plastics cannot be recycled due to the lack of financial resources to have a recycle program.

Educate with a smile
Educate (but don't preach) others about the suggestions listed above and why plastics are dangerous. Whenever you can, set an example by following the above list. People will catch on even if it takes while.

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Photograph Chris Jordan

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