It’s difficult to get away from plastic in your life. From food and water containers to product packaging to single-use bags, plastic has become a convenient way to receive and throw away consumer products. Unfortunately, this convenience has led to an overabundance of plastic waste that has now become ubiquitous in every ocean on the planet.

A Persistent Problem

Plastic is an ideal material because it is durable, lightweight, and inexpensive to manufacture. These same characteristics also mean that it can be used in just about everything from the mattress you sleep on to the computer you use every day. The problem arises when you want to dispose of these items.

Some of the plastic that you throw away ends up in your local landfill or recycling center. However, many people worldwide find their coastlines and rivers littered with plastic waste that was improperly disposed of. Much of that waste is washed or blown into our oceans. Unless it was burned, much of the plastic manufactured since its invention has become waste.

Plastic bags take 1,000 years to decompose, all the while leaving behind pollutants and toxic chemicals. Once the pollutants end up in our oceans, they are there forever unless removed or consumed by marine life.

Impacting Marine Life

Plastic waste can injure and kill marine life in numerous ways. Floating plastic is broken down by sunlight and waves into smaller pieces called microplastics. These microplastics are ingested by sea creatures, which can result in starvation, suffocation, or infection. Seabirds that feed on the floating debris can pass the contamination onto their feeding chicks, impacting their health and survival. Large plastic waste can harbor chemicals, toxins and invasive species that can be transported hundreds of miles into sensitive areas such as coral reef systems or mangroves.

Protecting Our Coasts

The plastic debris that ends up on our coral reefs and mangroves is causing irreversible damage to our oceans and marine ecosystems. Coral reefs are showing signs of coral bleaching, disease, and even death from damaging items such as lawn chairs, water bottles, and garbage bags. Mangrove forests are an important source of food, timber, and plant products. Once the coral reefs and mangrove forests die, there is little protection from big storms, less habitat for fish, and a decrease in income for locals who depend on them for their livelihoods.

The problem may seem daunting but is not hopeless. There are many steps you can take to help decrease the amount of plastic in our oceans. You can reduce your use of single-use plastics and purchase products in alternative packaging. You can also recycle your plastic and if you live somewhere without a recycling program, you can start one.

Here’s another great article: Why the Great Outdoors Are Exactly What All Kids Need