Plastic has changed the face of the world for better and worse and is an indispensable product. And as such has
become the dummy that rose against its maker and is threatening to strangle it.
No matter which coast we travel to in Europe, Asia, America or even the poles, plastic waste is floating everywhere on the water or lying on the beach, evidence of the excessive consumption that characterizes our lives as well as low awareness of its results.
How does plastic reach the sea? We leave it on the beach, on river banks or in city streets – beverage bottles, plastic bags and disposable utensils. These come with wind and waves to sea, and turn into one of the harshest enemies of marine environment.
What is Plastic
Plastic is a complex polymer produced mainly from oil. It was introduced into our lives only a few decades ago, nevertheless it is everywhere: in industry, at homes, in packaging, in paint, adhesives, toys, electronics, clothes, artificial joints and more. What made plastic so popular is its ease of production, low price, durability and versatility.
Plastic originates in natural material, but finished products are made of materials that do not exist in nature, and therefore, for the moment, there are no creatures capable of decomposing it efficiently. According to experts' estimates, a PET (polyethylene terephthELAte) bottle made of polyethylene will last for 700-500 years. A hard plastic box will decompose after 1,000 years and an innocent plastic bag left on the beach will decompose after 200-300 years. All we can do is assume that the archaeologists of 3016 will find the box we left on the beach in the summer of 2016.
Every year, the world produces trillions of plastic products, weighing billions of tons, half of which cannot be recycled. These find their way to garbage dumps, open spaces and the sea. It is estimated that there are already more than a trillion particles of plastic waste in the oceans and thus far it is agreed upon with researchers that plastic waste is one of the most serious ecological problems. Plastic harms millions of animals every year. Studies suggest that by 2025 the oceans will contain more plastic particles than living organisms.
In recent years it has been discovered that plastic waste accumulates in giant floating islands (5 gyres) containing plastic parts in various stages of decomposition, with concentrations of bacteria, algae and protozoa (parasite). The largest garbage dump island is in the Pacific Ocean, and it has been dubbed "Plastisphere". The researchers, Tracy Mintzer and Eric Zetler of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, which expose this phenomenon, examined the biological membrane that encapsulates a piece of plastic about five millimeters long and found more than 1,000 different species, some of which had never lived in the open ocean. The researchers surmise that some of the bacteria cling on to the plastic pieces as they pass through the digestive tract of fish or other marine animals. Not only that but plastic waste contains dangerous substances such as DDT, which are considered carcinogenic to both animals and man.
These dangerous substances are consumed by marine life, climb up the food chain and reach our plates.
As for now research has not yet been conducted as to the plastic infected consumption of marine life but researchers are express serious concern of the consequences.
Plastic floating at sea is responsible for another worrying phenomenon, the immigration of invading species.
Small marine creatures float through the oceans by clinging on to the small plastic pieces until they settle down in another place and inhabit it. With the absence of natural enemies the invading species take over the new environment and harm local inhabitants.
According to a UN report the economic damage caused by plastic waste is an estimated $ 75 billion a year alongside severe damage to coral reefs, death of sea turtle & mammals and severe damage to the biological diversity. Damages caused to the fishing, tourism, shipping and other sectors has been estimated at about $ 13 billion a year. The Economic Association of Asian Countries has estimated that plastic waste causes its member states $ 1.2 billion in damage each year, where the major damage caused by a decline in tourism as a result of coastal pollution.
Coastal pollution requires local authorities to invest huge sums in cleaning and enforcement. In the west coast of the United Stated cleaning of beaches reach up to $ 500 million a year, a sum that can be invested in other important goals such as education, housing and welfare. Our local authorities also invest a lot of money in cleaning beaches each year. In the absence of substantial assistance from the state, it is considered too few of actions and as such not efficient enough.
Professor Richard Thompson of the Plymouth University, England, was the first to discover in 2004 that plastic thrown into the sea is not degradable as many hoped, but undergoes a process of extinction which eventually turns it into micro plastic with grain diameter between several microns to few millimeters.
In 2009, researchers from the Auckland University, Australia, determined that these "innocent" particles floating at sea, penetrate the bodies of creatures, climb up the food chain, causing extensive damage to life and marine flora and reach our table with the fish we eat. It is estimated that the Pacific island of plastics contains billions of micro-plastics particles per square kilometer. A study of large lakes in the north of the United States has revealed large amounts of plastic particles that damage the water and the living creatures with in them, among them the oysters that are very fond of the region's inhabitants.
Another major source of micro plastics is household products, headed by cosmetics products – shower gel, peeling products and toothpastes to which plastic particles (microbeads) are inserted with the aim of increasing their efficiency. (Toothpaste contains between 5,000 and 95,000 plastic particles. Plastic particles volume in shower gel equals the volume of the other ingredients). These particles are so small they do not stop in any filter on the way, and they reach municipal sewage, groundwater, rivers and sea, causing damage. In 2015 Following public pressure, US President Barack Obama signed a law banning the sale of micro-plastics products less than five millimeters in diameter, which will come into effect July 2017. Even before the law was passed, cosmetic companies announced that they found natural alternatives to plastic pellets – Nutshells, fruit seeds and more.
Despite the paucity of research and the paucity of data, researchers still define the Mediterranean as "Plastic battered”, as about 10 percent of the world's coastal population lives along its shores, its shipping lanes are overloaded and its water flow streams that have dense populations, those are considered Ideal conditions for catastrophic emergence. According to preliminary estimates, already today the Mediterranean Sea contains about 10 percent of the total amount of plastic waste that travels throughout the seas, tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of items per kilometer.
The situation in Israel is no different. An three year examination conducted in eight different sections of the coast, by the Haifa University in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, from Betzet in the north to Zikim in the south, shows that 92 percent of the waste on beaches and sea is plastic (58 percent worldwide). The sorting of waste revealed that it contained a large quantity of food packages, disposable utensils (32 percent) and garbage bags
What does "zalul" do
Changing laws of disposable plastic
Herzliya city without plastic
Extend the law of bags
Deposit law on large bottles as well
?What can we do more
Although it seems that plastic polluting the beaches and rivers is a kind of fate that comes along with progress, it turns out that it is not too late to take responsibility. Global experience shows that if governments, authorities and the public believe that a subject is important enough, they will act to realize it. If we all believe that leaving waste on the beaches endangers our health and the health of the marine environment, it is likely that the phenomenon will be reduced, as was the case with picking wildflowers and cleaning streets with dog feces. For this to happen, the government, the authorities and the public must do their part. The government must enact laws and enforce them, such as: encouraging the reduction of the use of disposable plastic, prohibiting the manufacture and import of non-biodegradable disposable utensils, marking plastic products during their degradation and more. Local authorities must enact bylaws, impose fines on waste disposal agents and clean the beaches thoroughly and at a much higher frequency. The public has to act logically – reduce the use of plastic, use multi-usage tools, say "no" to bags and drinking straws, recycle, and especially not to through waste into rivers and on the beach.