Sunday, April 22nd is Earth Day, and this year the Earth Day Network is calling for us to end plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is poisoning our oceans and land, injuring marine life, and affecting our health, making it a major environmental and public health issue that deserves our attention and action.
Rivers and bays have grown considerably cleaner since the federal Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, however, the act did not account for the growing problem of plastic debris. Three hundred million (300,000,000) tons of fossil-fuel-based plastics are sold each year—90% of which are simply thrown away. A significant percentage of these plastics end up in our landfills and waterways—and eventually our oceans—polluting water sources and wildlife in the process.
As plastics break down, they break down into smaller particles, known as microplastics. Some microplastics are so small that they cannot be filtered out by wastewater treatment plants. When these microplastics are introduced to the ocean, they visually mimic plankton and are often mistakenly consumed by seabirds and marine life.
Another consequence of plastic decomposition is that it leaches harmful compounds such as styrene trimer and bisphenol A (BPA) into our environment. BPA has been shown to interfere with the reproductive systems of animals, while styrene monomer, a polystyrene by-product, is a suspected carcinogen. Not only do the plastics leach dangerous compounds, they absorb toxins commonly found in polluted waters, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and pesticides. When seabirds and marine life consume these plastics and consequent contaminants, they enter the food chain, threatening the health of wildlife and, likely, humans.
What’s more, because many of the harmful contaminants released during plastic decomposition are heavier than water, they are thought to sink and therefore exist throughout the water column, not just at the surface. We still do not fully understand the magnitude and long-term consequences of this contamination.
Water is one of the Earth’s most precious resources, and as humans it is our responsibility to help safeguard it. Plastic pollution is a serious threat to human health and our environment. That’s why this Earth Day we at Babcock Labs encourage you to take action! Visit earthday.org to calculate your plastic consumption and make a plan to reduce it. Take additional action by signing the Earth Day Network’s petition to Help End Plastic Pollution.
Together we can make important strides toward healthier, more sustainable consumption and waste processes so that we can protect and maintain our home, Earth.