by Madison Wallace, Newport Aquarium Public Relations Aide
The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is probably one you’ve heard before, but for America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, we would like to encourage you to dive a little deeper into the effects recycling has on marine ecosystems and the ocean at large.
More than any other type of pollution, plastic is harming marine ecosystems.
Why? A single plastic bag can take over 500 years to break down naturally, and this process creates what scientists refer to as “microplastics”. Microplastics are tiny granules of plastic that have worn away from larger pieces of plastic waste like bags and bottles, and are now suspended indefinitely in the ocean.
In fact, scientists estimate that for every square mile of ocean, there are around 46,000 pieces of plastic waste suspended and continuously breaking down.
It’s hard to imagine that the plastic shopping bag you get from the grocery store could make its way into a river near your house, or even the ocean, but it’s estimated that more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean and lakes every year.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of marine pollution originates on dry land, particularly from waste that hasn’t been disposed of properly. Plastics floating in the ocean pose serious threats to marine animals that are often already endangered. These creatures often ingest plastic waste, or become entangled in it.
For example, if you’ve been to Newport Aquarium, you’ve probably encountered Denver the Loggerhead sea turtle. Sea turtles are particularly at risk for consuming deadly plastics because they feed off the surface.
Loggerheads’ diets primarily consist of jellyfish, which floating plastic bags often resemble. This mistake can often be fatal or debilitating.
High densities of plastic pollution tend to target seabirds, marine mammals such as seals and otters and reptiles such as turtles, many of which are represented her at The Aquarium.
For America Recycles Day, Newport Aquarium wanted to share some ways you can help minimize the amount of plastic waste that enters the ocean annually and support the well-being of the animals at risk.
FIVE WAYS YOU CAN HELP
Invest in reusable grocery bags
Try grabbing a few reusable grocery bags next time you’re at the grocery! Stores will often give you a discount for bringing your reusable bags, and your family can save up to 1,500 bags annually. (http://www.nrdc.org/media/2008/080109.asp)
Bring your own thermos
Make your next morning coffee run a little greener. Bringing your own coffee thermos allows you to skip the paper (or Styrofoam) cup, the plastic lid and avoid inevitable coffee spills! Plus, many coffee places will give you a B.Y.O.M. (bring your own mug) discount.
Avoid cosmetics with microbeads
Facial scrubs and toothpastes often boast of being exfoliating, but they’re also being filtered into our Great Lakes. These products contain plastic microbeads, which are washed down drains and dumped into lakes and rivers. Switch to more natural products that utilize non-plastic exfoliates.
Pass on the bottled water
Somewhere around 50 million plastic water bottles are produced in the United States every year. Switching to a reusable water bottle can make a huge difference in the amount of plastic you use daily, and save you a ton of money. (http://www.nrdc.org/media/2008/080109.asp)
Join the movement
Newport Aquarium’s nonprofit partner, the WAVE Foundation, hosts a river cleanup team through ORSANCO (Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission) every year. All bodies of water are connected, and helping clean up the Ohio River is a great place to start.
For more information, check out your county’s recycling guidelines on ways to recycle properly, and do your part to learn more about how to reuse and recycle as many of your household waste products as possible.