An Open Letter to Beachgoers

Dear Beachgoer,

We know you’ve seen that video of a turtle. Nose bleeding. A pair of tweezers fishing a whole plastic straw out its nose. It’s heart-wrenching. How long has it been there? A week? A month? A year? How long has the turtle been unable to breathe? These are the questions that probably circled your mind for 8 minutes.

But the real questions is: how long until we realize we’re terrible at disposing our garbage?

Plastic has been deeply incorporated into our day-to-day lives that going a day without it seems impossible. Our favorite snacks are packaged in plastic. Our toothbrushes are made of plastic. Our self-care products are contained in plastic. The world’s plastic usage has gone crazy. All because corporations use this product because it doesn’t cost much.

But the environmental effects cost way, way more. 275 million out of 2.5 billion metric tons of solid waste per year is plastic, and 8 million of these go into the ocean, contaminating the marine ecosystem and being mistaken as food by 60% of seabirds and 100% of sea turtles.[1] In fact, it has been studied that in 2050—31 years from now—there will be as much plastic in the ocean as there are fish.

However, plastic isn’t the biggest problem yet. We have long overlooked cigarette butts. According to NBC, cigarette butts have been the number one “most littered item in the world.”[2] Because there are 5.6 trillion cigarettes produced per year, and 65% of smokers prefer to throw the butts on the ground[3], it is not a surprise that there are 130% more cigarette butts in the ocean than any other pollutants. The sole reason behind this is the best: smokers just love flicking these butts.[2]

You might say, “But they’re foamy. They’re probably made from something like cotton. Something biodegradable.” They’re not. That’s a common misconception. These filters are made of cellulose acetate. We don’t want to get all scientific, so all we can tell you is it takes a decade—or more—to decay. Let’s also not forget that their main function is to filter some of the 7,000 toxins found in cigarettes. This means that these filters hold harmful toxins. When one butt is placed in a liter of water, it is guaranteed to kill all the fish.[3] Now imagine having millions and millions of these in the ocean. You don’t need math for that.

These numbers are staggering and infinitesimally alarming, Beachgoer, and they are not trivial. If you think you have nothing to do with this, you have never been more wrong. This is the same ocean you’re about to swim in. These pollutants are also in your sumptuous seafood experience. Not to mention there’s the chance the planet is going to give up on us.

So, please, Beachgoer, before you litter, think about these facts.

It all comes back to our elementary lessons, really.

Do not litter.

 

Sincerely,

Valerie.

 

 

[1] “Plastics in the ocean.” Ocean Conservancy. n.d. https://oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/plastics-in-the-ocean/

[2] Rainey, J. “Plastic straw ban? Cigarette butts are the single greatest source of ocean trash.” 27 Aug 2018. NBCNews. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/plastic-straw-ban-cigarette-butts-are-single-greatest-source-ocean-n903661

[3] Dangerfield, K. “Cigarette butts are polluting the ocean more than plastic straws — so why not ban these?” 3 Sep 2018. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/4418956/cigarette-butts-ocean-pollution-ban/

 

Photo by Juan Pablo Ahumada on Unsplash

Valerie

I don't believe in astrology but... I'm peak Virgo.

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