The Plastic Plague This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

May 11, 2010
Do you remember the first time you went to a beach? The soft sand, the breathtakingly blue water, the waves, and the small colorful creatures in magical tide pools. I remember being so inspired that I knew I wanted a career that had to do with the ocean and marine life. From that point on, whenever I went to an aquarium, I always felt an overwhelming sense of beauty, balance, and life.

Sadly, due to increasing trash, that beautiful ocean I remember loving is in danger. Trash is making its way into our oceans and building up in massive amounts. This is a worldwide problem that is starting to effect marine life, and, believe it or not, we can easily stop it.

Floating between the U.S.'s West Coast and Japan is the largest ocean dump in the world. Known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, this “trash soup” mixture of garbage is almost twice the size of the United States and growing. Almost 90 percent of the Eastern Garbage Patch is plastic. Plastic bags, bottles, and wrappers are all ingredients in the mix that make up this “oceanfill.”

This is a scary fact: most common plastics today don't biodegrade. The chemicals that go into making plastic containers only degrade through a slow process involving the sun. Depending on the chemicals the plastic is made from, this may take hundreds of years. This means that every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists and will for hundreds of years.

Marine life is taking the hardest hit. Our trash is invading animals' homes, forcing them elsewhere. Often, it results in their death. In many places around the world, and especially in the Eastern Garbage Patch, trash and plastic take up the space that the animals need. Our trash is suffocating sea life that the ocean food chain depends on to live. If the trash is where those plants and fish once lived, other animals can easily mistake it for the real thing. But their digestive systems can't handle the trash, and often it will kill them. The deaths and migrations of too many animals in a particular area can throw off the already delicate food chain.

Although this problem might only be hurting marine life right now, if it continues, it will eventually impact us too. Have you ever been to a big city's downtown and seen trash in the roads? Overflowing dumpsters in alleys? That trash has to go somewhere, and once our oceans are full, our cities and homes will be next.

How can we stop using plastic and creating trash? The unfortunate truth is plastic is everywhere, especially in grocery stores and packaging materials. Almost everything not found in the produce section in the grocery store has some plastic packaging. Not to mention the plastic bags to carry your produce and groceries home in.

Despite this, there are steps you can take to minimize your plastic usage. Instead of plastic or paper bags in the checkout lanes, buy a reusable bag made of recycled materials or canvas. Recycle everything you can. Most fleece jackets are now made from recycled plastic bottles.

Finding alternative uses for plastic bags that you have is another way to lessen the amount of plastic used. For example, you could use one for a lunch box or to carry something in.

There are endless possibilities to help stop the spread of trash and plastic in our world. If everyone helps, we can get our oceans back and save many animals. However, if we don't start taking steps soon, the results will be devastating. Have you seen the movie “Wall-E”? Remember what earth looked like when Wall-E was left alone? It was so polluted with trash that practically no life existed. The people who made that movie were trying to get a message across: we have to take care of our earth and home before it's too late. We are slowly destroying it. Remember the plant Wall-E found? And how hard the people in space tried to protect it? Similarly, we have to protect our environment now. If we continue to be wasteful and use plastic and other nonbiodegradable materials, the results will be frightening.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

MHall said...
Feb. 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm
Rachel, you rock! Thank you for writing about this. It's so important.
Site Feedback