Plastic pollution is going out of control


Researchers remove plastic waste from the stomach of a beached whale at Wakatobi National Park in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Image Credit: AP

The contributions of a Dubai-based company for a plastic clean-up of one of the world’s largest ocean patches between San Francisco and Hawaii is a strong ray of light in the darkly disturbing global predicament of plastic pollution of our rivers, seas and oceans. Against the growing chorus of observers and analysts, who predict that at the current rate of plastic dumping, in under a decade from now, there will be more plastic debris in the oceans than fish, there is no more room left for complacency.

The planet’s water bodies are being critically compromised by the human pursuit of a plastics lifestyle. More than 800 species of marine animals are susceptible to the estimated 8.8 million tonnes of plastics deposited each year in the oceans, say experts. Last week, one more red alert was posted by nature: A 1,000 pieces of plastic were found inside a dead whale in Indonesia. These included 115 cups, 25 bags, four bottles and two flip-flops. Apart from the fact that it is not the diet that nature has devised for whales, this horrific outcome proves beyond a shred of doubt that our obsession with plastics, and particularly single-use plastics, has gone beyond control.

For those who paid scant attention in their science classes, this may come as a head-scratcher, but we are an interdependent species. The more we dump plastics into the oceans and the more we alter natural processes of marine organisms and threaten their survival, the less safe is our own survival. We cannot afford to forget this truth. The fact that the world’s top 20 marine plastic polluting countries are in the developing economies — according to studies and the runaway population growth in these countries — especially along their coastal regions, is a significant contributor to this problem. Plastic is cheap and it fuels lifestyle needs even in the most economically challenged stratum and the result is a staggering scale of purchase and waste that is ending up as a marine chokehold.

While laws and policies at local, national and international level to prevent plastic pollution have a role to play, the sheer scale of human consumerist apathy can render them as straws in the wind.

The real change needs to come from people.

The many small and large-scale efforts around the world by volunteers and organisations to clean up plastic debris are life-savers, but they are also reactive efforts in a race against time. What we also need are preemptive efforts by individuals to not generate plastic waste in the first place. This is not a matter of choice; it is a matter of survival for all who share this beautiful planet.