by Lisa Aquilina
Micro-plastics, abandoned fishing equipment and other plastics are among our biggest environmental threats. They are hurting sea animals, making them sick and even killing them. Plastic waste is littering our seas and threatening lives of marine animals, whales, dolphins, seabirds, fish, crabs and other fish. Scientists estimate, that more than half of the world’s sea turtles and nearly every seabird on Earth have eaten plastic in their lifetimes.
Apart from this damage to animals, plastic pollution also ruins our beautiful beaches, coastlines, and dive sites. With steep rise of plastic production, low levels of recycling, and poor waste management, between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year—enough to cover every foot of coastline on the planet! And that amount is expected to more than double in the next 10 years, and the situation in Malta is no different.
One of the reasons that plastic pollution is such a problem is that it doesn’t go away: “plastics are forever.” Instead, plastic debris simply breaks down into ever-smaller particles, known as micro-plastics, whose environmental impacts are still being determined. Micro-plastics are tiny pieces of plastic which come from larger plastics that have degraded over time. Sea animals often eat micro-plastics because of their small size. And plastic contains toxic chemicals, which can increase the chance of disease. After ingesting micro-plastics, sea animals, may suffer for months or years before they die. Some facts and statistics are very alarming! In 2014, an estimated 15 to 51 trillion micro-plastic particles were floating in the world’s oceans, weighing between 93,000 and 236,000 tons. Cigarette butts, plastic bags, fishing gear, and food and beverage containers are the most common forms of plastic pollution found in the oceans. 60 to 90 % of marine litter is plastic-based. 50 % of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away. And at the moment, we recover only 5% of the plastics we produce.
So what can we do to make the use of plastic less and less? Here are some ways you can make a difference. First of all we could try to avoid using products which contain plastic microbeads. Surprisingly enough these can be found in face-scrubs, toothpastes and body washes and these easily find their way into our seas through the water coming down the sewers. We should always read the label on the product we buy and look out for words like “polyethylene” and “polypropylene”. We can choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and bottled water. Cloth bags and metal or glass reusable bottles are available locally at great prices. We should refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws and other “disposable” plastics. Instead we should always carry reusable utensils in our bags or cars to use at barbecues or when we buy take-away. For school and work we should try to reduce everyday plastics such as lunch bags and juice cartons by replacing them with a reusable lunch boxes and flasks. This way we would be reducing single use plastic.
We should go digital! No need for plastic cds, DVDs when you can buy your music and videos online. We should also look out for new ideas and alternatives to the plastic items that we rely on. We should always try to recycle properly and if we must use plastic, we should at least be informed and try to choose (PETE) or (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics. It is a pity that at the moment only 9% of plastic is recycled worldwide.
Statistics show that in Malta, plastic waste generated doubles within just one year. The total generation of plastic waste in 2016, excluding plastic disposed of together with other materials, totalled to 8,714 tonnes. This means an increase of 108.2% over 2015.
In July 2018, a “Clean the Seas” project was launched and a massive haul of 140kg of plastic was collected from the Maltese coastal waters. This initiative was aimed at cleaning our waters and spread awareness about the health of the Mediterranean Sea. The most common pollutants being bottles and bags, followed closely by plastic cups and plates. There was also a substantial amount of micro plastics. This project has shown that despite being a small island plastic litter around Malta is abundant.
We should try to clean our beaches from plastic in the simplest, most direct but rewarding way which is to pick up our own waste with friends or family. We can also participate in a beach clean-up and help prevent plastics from getting into our seas. That is what I did. On the 13th November 2018 an event was organized by Nature Trust and the Young Reporters for the Environment at Gnejna Bay where three turtles were released after being treated for damages caused by human impact. The Ekoskola committee attended the event and I was one of them. As an activity during this event, we had to clean up Gnejna Bay.
A few days ago, after school we went again to Gnejna Bay. In a timed five minute plastic clean up, this is what I saw and what I managed to collect:
And finally, as the future generation, we should spread the word. We should try to educate our members of the family and friends about why it is important to reduce plastic in our lives and the impacts of plastic pollution. Everyone can do something to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the ocean. These are just a few ideas. The important thing is that we all do something, no matter how small.