Biology Plastic and other waste on Aberdeen beach

Published on March 24th, 2015 | by Christina Nikolova


The Age of Plastics

Aberdeen University Marine Society’s President, Christina Nikolova, talks about plastic pollution in the oceans and offers some advice to reduce your plastic footprint.

Today’s society is dependent on two things — oil and plastic. In fact, most of the plastic is made of oil. We can hardly imagine life without the either. Just look around yourselves and you will discover that most of your belongings are made of some sort of plastic. From your polyester underwear to the acrylic nails on your fingertips (that’s if you are into that sort of thing), have you ever considered what happens to all these plastic products when they finish their loyal service to you?

The fate of plastics

“A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.”

8 billion tonnes of plastic waste end up in the oceans each year — from tiny bits to bottles, bags, fishing nets and anything in between. As a result, huge patches of trash, some of which with the size of Texas or bigger, are floating in the middle of the oceans, caught by the global currents. Plastic pollution is having a significant environmental impact on marine life. Each year countless marine species suffer because of plastic consumption mistaken for food. Plastic ingestion can lead to internal blockages, dehydration, and potentially death. 44% of all sea birds, 22% of cetaceans, all sea turtle species, and a growing number of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies, according to the 5 Gyres organisation.

Cheap but dangerous

Although plastic is the cheapest way to pack lots of stuff, it is relatively expensive to produce. To produce a 1 litre plastic water bottle you need 250 millilitres of oil and three litres of water. And because plastic is made of oil, it is potentially dangerous not just for marine organisms but for human health as well. Plastic breaks down into small pieces that enter the food chain and release toxic chemicals into the fish that eat them. Once in the food chain, these chemicals eventually end up in our bodies as we are the top of that chain. Some of these chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), phthalanes, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s), and bisphenol-A (BPA) can cause different health issues associated with cancer, diabetes, altered immune systems, endocrine disruptors, development problems in children and others.

What can you do?

The Aberdeen University Marine Society’s campaign “Less Plastic — healthier oceans, cleaner beaches and happier people” will run from 23rd to 29th March. It aims to raise awareness among Aberdeen University’s students and staff about the scales of plastic pollution in oceans. Re-usable bags with the society’s logo and the campaign name will also be available to buy at the campaign events. The money collected from the bag sales is going to help to sustain the society’s regular beach clean-ups and further develop the event so that the wider community is engaged as well. So keep your eyes open and do your bit in reducing plastic waste. Here are some of my tips on how to achieve this:

Forget about the plastic bags!

Did you know that a single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade? Did you also know that about 1 million plastic bags are used every minute worldwide? Still want to use plastic bags? Be smart, watch this, and use reusable (non-plastic) bags, like one of the Marine Society’s which will be available to buy at their events this week.

Reuse every plastic container you can

Yogurt, dips, berries, margarine etc. are all packed in plastic containers that can be re-used as lunch boxes or to store food. See, you don’t need plastic bags to wrap your sandwich/lunch anymore!

Bring your own fork

Why not bring your own set of cutlery instead of using plastic ones every time you have fast food or take-away for lunch? Think about all the useless plastic knives that cannot cut through your sausage or the fork that cannot pierce that tasty chip. Such a waste of time and effort, isn’t it?

Straw? No thank you!

Straws are pretty annoying and dangerous waste for marine animals. So, next time in the bar, just drink it yourself and do the environment a favour!

I have my own bottle, thanks!

Bottled water produces about 1.5 million tons of plastic waste every year, which require roughly 47 million gallons of oil to produce, and is the most common plastic found on beaches. Using a reusable bottle or cup not only saves you money but reduces the need of plastic, paper or Styrofoam cups.

I will take a box

In general, the less packaging the better, but if you can’t avoid packaging at all, go for cardboard instead of plastic ones! Cardboard can be more easily recycled and made into more products than plastic.

A match is a match

If you smoke, use a match not a plastic lighter! Plastic lighters are small enough to be mistaken for food and ingested by seabirds, fish and sea turtles. Matches are also cheaper, made of cardboard (see “I will take a box!”) and wood – all more nature-friendly materials. A potential alternative is a refillable metal lighter.

Recycling the way forward

Pretty much everything is recyclable these days so no excuse not to do it! Just separate paper and cardboard, plastics and metal waste in the specified bins. Food waste also has dedicated bins, but please consume as much as possible from your food because is getting scarce too!

Featured image by Christina Nikolova.

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About the Author

Christina is an undergraduate student in Marine Biology and is currently trying to save the oceans. Meanwhile, sports, reading, writing and traveling are fulfilling her spare time.

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