Plastic waste in our oceans: The invasion we don’t see

By Christopher Thompson

The recent death of a young sperm whale, filled with plastic, could be another warning sign of what is happening in our oceans, and how we need to intervene to protect our marine animals.

Since the beginning of 2019, according to Greenpeace Italia, five sperm whales filled with plastic have washed ashore the coast of Italy, alone — the latest victim, a seven-year-old whale.

Greenpeace Italia shared images of the young whale on Facebook, along with a video of scientist Carmelo Isgro cutting the whale’s stomach open, only to find it stuffed with plastic

“As you can see from the images we’re sharing, a lot of plastic was found in its stomach,” Greenpeace Italia’s Giorgia Monti said in a statement. “The sea is sending us a cry for help, a desperate SOS.”

Alarming amounts of plastic end up in the ocean each year

According to a United Nations Environment Program report, 13 tons of plastic waste are dumped into the global marine environment each year, the equivalent of a dump truck full of plastic waste being dumped every minute into the ocean.

It’s estimated Asia is the source of 80 percent of the marine plastic pollution; however, the majority of that plastic is not generated there.

“It’s an uncomfortable fact that … the vast majority of the waste in these Asian countries that are ending up in the oceans actually come from the U.S. and Europe,” said David Azoulay, attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, during a recent environmental convention in Geneva, Switzerland.

Restricting the global plastic waste trade

There, 187 countries agreed to add plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that regulates the movement of hazardous materials between countries, in an effort to combat the plastic waste crisis.

The addition of plastic waste to the treaty specifically looks to protect underdeveloped countries from becoming a dumping ground for the world’s waste.

The U.S has not signed the Basel Convention, meaning developing countries in the treaty will not be able to accept plastic waste from the United States that is not ready to be recycled.

Creating change

Latin American countries have also become active in protecting marine environments, with countries like Chile banning plastic bags in stores throughout the country, and Mexico launching campaigns to reduce the use of straws.

While ultimately we could all point fingers as to who is the cause of this problem, there are small ways we can all have a positive impact on this crisis.

For me, the wake-up call was watching massive amounts of plastic being removed from the young sperm whale — which led me to make the decision to start cutting one-time use plastic from my daily routine, this includes straws and plastic cups.

How will you help the plastic pollution crisis?