Oceans of plastic

Plastic is everywhere. You are probably surrounded by plastic as you read this, from the computer or cell phone you’re reading on to the chair you’re sitting on to the takeout box you may have eaten from. It is estimated that over 300 million metric tons of plastic is produced every year. In fact more plastic was produced over the last 10 years than during the previous 100 years! Plastic is a useful and versatile product and is part of many important products, although sometimes not obviously so. It is in everyday items such as electronics, building materials, cars and medical equipment. It is also important in the food industry, as wrapping products in plastic can help prevent food wastage by prolonging shelf-life.

Plastic is undeniably useful but it is also a growing environmental problem, with an estimated 8 -12 million metric tons finding its way into the ocean each year. Single-use plastic items are a significant part of this problem. These include items such as takeaway coffee cup lids, sweet wrappers, drink spigots and stirrers as well as the well-known straws, plastic bottles and plastic shopping bags. These items are generally used for a very short time and often not recycled or properly disposed of because of their size and ubiquity as a result they stay in the environment for hundreds of years. When in nature, plastic is harmful to wildlife both at sea and on land. Marine birds and animals can become entangled in discarded fishing nets or floating plastic debris and they often mistake pieces of plastic as food which then fills their stomachs with non-digestible plastic bits.

The fishing industry worldwide has come under fire due to the high rate of loss of fishing gear, which continues to entangle fish and other animals when floating along with the currents. In light of this, the RFA training programme not only creates awareness among fishers about sustainable fishing but also about the dangers of plastic pollution and the best practice actions to prevent it.

While plastic pollution is a growing concern, there are steps that everyone can take to reduce their impact:

  • Reduce your use of single-use plastic items
  • Carry a reusable mug and container for takeaway items
  • Evaluate your shopping choices to reduce plastic where possible
  • Follow the refuse, reduce, reuse mantra – and only then should you resort to recycling
  • Educate yourself and others on what plastics can be recycled and which can’t
  • Share WWF’s Plastic Files which  provide insight and a few solutions to this global problem