Why do plastics continue to threaten our aquatic ecosystems?

Plastics are like a double-edged sword. They have contributed to amazing improvements in preservation and manufacturing, however it has come at a significant cost to the environment. There are serious concerns for these plastics ending up in landfill and our aquatic ecosystem. In a way, most people are either unaware or turn a blind eye to how much plastics that end up in aquatic ecosystems affect people’s quality of life, health and wellbeing. There are countries such as Australia and Japan which have promising systems in place, but in places like India and China whose countries contain 1/3rd of the world’s population; plastics still cause significant issues to their aquatic environments which will lead to water shortages in the future that will affect wildlife and humans.

In Southern China, millions of residents have been affected by e-waste plastics that have contaminated their water source with toxic chemicals such as mercury, lead, bisphenol A, copper and zinc which can cause neurological diseases and cancer. The towns that are affected need to have their drinking and irrigation water brought in from nearby towns because the local water is too polluted to consume.

People need to prevent plastics from ending up in aquatic ecosystems.

Firstly, it is important that plastics are disposed correctly at the end of their life cycle. This means sorting the plastics into categories so that they will distributed and processed at the right recycling centres. The world can learn from the small Japanese town of Kamikatsu, whose authorities are striving to create a zero waste economy and minimises the threat of plastics going to landfill and ending up in waterways. The townsfolk need to sort their waste into 34 categories so that items can be distributed to the correct recycling facilities.

Secondly, plastics can enter the aquatic environment during the supply chain. This was evident when cargo containers full of ink cartridges fell off a cargo ship and lay on the seabed for over a year. Then reports started to surface saying that its contents started to wash up on the coastal shores of Britain, Spain, Portugal and France. Not only did it affect the ecosystem of different countries coastlines, but it also contributed to the growth of plastic islands in the ocean, as can be seen in the video below.

The threat comes from some of the plastics, which contain toxins and absorb organic pollutants from the seawater. Small sea life such as jellyfish will consume the toxic plastics and will then be eaten by bigger fish, which are then eaten by humans. The result is that humans end up consuming these toxic chemicals. A Greenpeace report cites 267 species of marine life being affected by plastics in general.

One of the ways the marine ecosystem is being affected is from the loss of cargo at sea.
It’s common for cargo spills to happen and product manufacturers and distributors do make efforts to prevent these disasters from happening. However,when these issues occur, it’s usually left to beachcombers and conservation groups to do the clean-up.

Thirdly, it’s important that any water that is used for washing or processing plastic uses the right drainage to prevent any toxins or residues that may have contaminated the water to flow into waterways that affect the ecosystem. It’s important that any sewerage water flows to water treatment plants so that the water can be recycled and used for non-drinking purposes such as irrigation.

There are specific schemes that can be implemented such as a cartridge recycling scheme for printer and ink cartridges. Businesses and residents can sort their cartridges into satchels or boxes and then send it to the right recyclers for processing.

It’s time for the citizens of the world to become more responsible when it comes to plastic in our aquatic ecosystems. Governments need to put more pressure on residents and businesses to dispose their plastics through the correct recycling distribution channels. Furthermore, organisations need to improve their response to clean-up efforts should plastics end up in aquatic ecosystems before reaching the end of their supply chain.

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