Tiny Plastics, Big Problem: Why Preventing and Cleaning Plastic Pollution Matters

Plastic pollution is a current issue that affects life on the planet, including humans and wildlife. In America alone, 500 million plastic straws are used everyday, enough to circle the earth’s equator twice. As members of society, it is necessary for us to contribute our time and efforts to alleviating this problem.

Scouting has emphasized the importance of solving plastic pollution. Many Scouting projects lead society by example, by encouraging and supporting many environmental initiatives that help to preserve our only planet. With their partnership with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, many Scouting Groups like the 15th Peterborough Salvation Army Scout Group have been able to carry out cleanups in their local community on an annual basis.

Plastic pollution is the accretion of plastic products, such as plastic bottles and food wrappers in the environment, which often end up in the wrong areas—including wildlife habitats, the air around us, and our waterways and oceans. Around 333,289 pieces of tiny plastic or foam have been collected through Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanups over the past year alone.

Protecting Natural Habitats from Litter

Plastic products are not being disposed of responsibly, and as a result there is plastic garbage accumulating in 25% of our planet, in ocean gyres. This percentage includes many wildlife habitats that have been affected by this pollution.

Animals can become entangled in larger pieces of plastic, restricting their movement or cutting off circulation. As a result of this, there are nearly 100,000 trash-related deaths of marine mammals every year.

It becomes quite difficult to remove these products from certain environments as they break down into smaller pieces known as microplastics. These microplastics find their way into the food chain of some animal populations, negatively impacting these animals and the wildlife they associate with. This includes humans, which eat prey that may have been contaminated with cancer-causing pollutants.

Plastic Air Pollutants

Some people believe that the best way to remove unwanted plastic is to burn it; however, this is not the case. According to the Barriere Fire Department, the fumes from burning plastic rise and contaminate our air as a result of the release of toxic chemicals. When humans and other animals inhale this polluted air, many respiratory health concerns develop. These pollutants negatively affect the quality of life for all, and it is up to us to help preserve our only planet by responsibly recycling or disposing of our plastics.

Clogging our Waterways

A 2017 study showed that, approximately 91% of all plastic produced was not recycled. As a result of this plastic can end up in landfills where it can be carried by the wind into the ocean, or down into our drainage networks. To prevent these materials from ending up in the wrong places, we can actively participate in shoreline cleanups in our local communities.

Through Scouting, I have been able to participate in many cleanups in my area and have had the opportunity to advocate the principles of ‘Leave No Trace’. Since 2002, Scouts have cleaned 5,314 kilograms of trash from shorelines through their partnership with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. According to 2017 findings by Ocean Wise, “More than 330,000 tiny pieces of plastic and foam debris were collected by Shoreline Cleanup volunteers — from 1,849 cleanups that covered nearly 3,000 kilometers of shoreline.” 1

There are simple steps that we can take to help protect our planet from the ramifications of plastic pollution. Limiting our purchases of single-use plastics and instead, using reusable products like glass containers, long-lasting bags and stainless-steel bottles are a few accessible options. Ensure that the plastics that you do use are recycled responsibly.

By applying the Scouts idea saying, ‘Be prepared’, planning ahead and bringing non-plastic items to accompany your daily activities, you can avoid using single-use plastics.

Canadian cities like Vancouver are also avoiding taking action with their ban of straws, foam cups and containers—set to take effect in 2019.

Taking these simple steps to reduce plastic pollution will help make a positive impact in our world. Our oceans will be cleaner, and wildlife will not have to face as much of a risk of health concerns as a result of plastic pollution.

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