Exposed: Single Use Plastic
Studies from recent years reveal that plastic, and especially single-use plastic, are not simply the enemies of the environment but more importantly the enemies of every one.
Single-use plastic pollutes the environment, harms animals, the sea and places an unnecessary burden on landfill, not to mention manpower needed from government services in reducing the waste, and collection from open areas and beaches.
None of this is new, or newsworthy anymore, what is however starting to seep out or rather sink in, to the minds and bodies of the public is that single-use plastic, especially in its encounter with what we eat and drink, is proving to be more toxic than we thought.
Let’s just look at the science.
It’s no secret that plastic is made from petroleum. To enable its properties, which made it the product we utilize so much - elasticity, color, transparency and much more, about 1,000 types of additives are added, - phthalates, bisphenols and others, whose effect on all animals health and the environment, is both directly harmful and with questionable checks and balances in place to mitigate potential damage.
Furthermore, every year new types of substances enter the market whose toxicity remain untested. Prof. (retired) Ilana Belmakar, from the Association of Public Health Physicians, in Israel said ‘ Non-specified chemicals are used especially in disposable plastic that due to exposure to heat, solar radiation and water are released into the environment and reach our bodies through the respiratory system and from there to the lymphatic systems, blood and other parts of the body. ‘
Prof. Karen Turgeman, from the Institute for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Hypertension, from the Faculty of Medicine at the Ichilov Hospital, Israel said that the bisphenols in disposable plastic affect a decrease in the age of the first menstrual period, an increase in cases of early puberty, an increase in obesity, damage to pancreatic cells, a decrease in fertility, an increase in the prevalence of prostate cancer, developmental disorders, attention problems and anxiety.
Phthalates are associated with obesity and resistance for insulin levels, damage to the production of follicles in the ovaries, early menopause, damage to the testicles, damage to testosterone levels, damage to the thyroid gland and much more.
Of course, the nightmare of plastic toxicity doesn’t end here, if it did we could simply take action to protect ourselves and our families throught removing single use plastics from our homes and remain distant from the collective problem.
The nightmare deepens with a poisonous plot twist called micro plastics.
Micro plastics, named so due to their size, less than five millimeters in length is now an emerging field of study. They pass through water filtration systems and end up in the oceans, posing both an immediate threat to aquatic life and entering the food chain.
Micro plastics, more specifically microbeads are not a recent problem. On December 28, 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, banning plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is leading efforts within NOAA to develop knowledge around this alarming health concern.
Standardized field methods for collecting sediment, sand, and surface-water microplastic samples are under development and continue to undergo testing. The central point is that micro plastics in the food chain are only increasing. We are dealing with the buildup of ocean waste from years of both ignorance and avoidance and the ongoing discarding of plastics worldwide.
Eventually, field and laboratory protocols will allow for global comparisons of the amount of micro plastics released into the environment, which is the first step in determining the final distribution, impacts, and fate of this debris.
So, in essence the individuals’ health concerns over single use plastic extend very much to the public sphere.
What are we doing to fight this plastic disaster?
At Coral World International, we believe in taking action and in each of our oceanariums we are engaged in multiple initiatives that reduce plastic use and educate the public.
How we do this in:
In the Maui Ocean Center, in Hawaii, we exclusively uses paper based ‘to-go’ boxes as well as biodegradable bamboo cutlery. We offer a wide selection of metal-based reusable bottles and have various bottle fill stations available through the park.
The water we sell at the reef café comes in recyclable aluminum cans. Our fish identification cards that we give to guests (that used to be plastic) are now made of a stone-based paper. It’s durable and sustainable and non-toxic. Our straws are biodegradable.
Our gift cards are paper based, and an entire section of our gift shop is devoted to sustainable products including metal and silicone alternatives to plastics. We also carry portable bamboo cutlery and bento boxes that customers can use as they travel around the island.
Sustainable tourism: We are working with Maui Visitors Bureau and the Surfrider Foundation on a campaign called “Rise against plastics”, which aims to educate visitors about the problems of single use plastic bottles and currently gives them a reusable water bottle to use instead.
These are provided in guest’s hotel and condominium rooms along with appropriate messaging.
In our Perth Location, AQWA we provide veterinary care and support to young turtles in our turtle rescue center that have ingested micro –plastics before we release them back to the wild. Sasha Thompson, our Education Manager said ‘All turtles we have cared for at our Turtle Rescue Centre have ingested micro-plastics. Turtles are particularly susceptible to microplastic, due to the way their throats are shaped to trap potential food. As well as injury, inability to feed, and potential toxic effects, it can also affect their buoyancy.’
In their teen educational programming, AQWA include audited beach walks where they not only pick up litter but also identify sources of littering, so that they can find patterns of and try to change future behavior. The teen programs also include making tie-dye calico bag and bees wax wrap so that after the program they can reduce their use of plastic at home. Not only that but the teen programming also offer a ‘bring 3 for the sea’ (return three plastic bottles per student to us here at AQWA) receive a free child return pass.
The Red Sea
In the Underwater Observatory marine park, in Eilat, we have our ocean experts giving daily explanatory talks at turtle feeding times, highlighting the damage that plastic bags and plastic in general cause to turtles and to the ocean, they live in.
The staff go on regular ocean clean ups which involve diving in the area to remove debris and all local divers are invited to help.
The Palma Aquarium
In Palma, we work on an ongoing basic with the University of the Balearic Islands on the impact of plastics on megafauna in the Mediterranean, providing samples collected from stranded animals.
We organize workshops for students to learn about biodiversity, organize environmental awareness days, beach and ocean clean ups.
In our ocean park gift shop and through our suppliers we have a plastic avoidant policy and supply a line of reusable bottles with trendy marine designs. We have no single use plastic water bottles for sale and use Tetra Pak water bottles with our own Palma Aquarium design at our restaurant and cafeteria