by Francesca Varela, Digital Coordinator at OLCV
Last week, a dead sperm whale washed up on the rocky Sardinian coastline. She was a young female, and pregnant at the time of her death. You know what killed her? Over 48 pounds of plastic, lodged in her stomach. Shopping bags. Take-out containers. Disposable dishes. All things that we, as humans, use briefly, and then throw away. Sometimes our waste ends up in landfills, or recycling centers. All too often, it ends up in the sea.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the ocean. There’s something about it—the salt-wind, the drumming of waves, the bright flecks of sunlight upon the water—that makes me feel like I’m home. That’s why, for my Environmental Humanities Master’s thesis, I decided to study the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the effects of plastic pollution on ocean ecosystems.
I soon learned just how much plastic is in our oceans—when you look up at the night sky, somewhere with no light pollution, and you see the Milky Way above you, and all the sparkling, bright stars? That’s only a tiny sliver of our galaxy. And there are over 500 times more pieces of plastic in our oceans than there are stars in our galaxy. If we keep on our current trajectory, then, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
So what can we do about it? Our first step is to stop the pollution at its source, and phase out single-use plastic. Two bills have been introduced to the Oregon state legislature that, if passed, will do just that. One—House Bill 2509—would ban plastic bags, and the other—House Bill 2883—would ban styrofoam take-out containers and cups. Can you take a minute to email your representative and ask them to vote yes on these two bills?
Whether you realize it or not, we’re all affected by plastic. You, and I, and everyone you know has plastic in their bodies, thanks to the microscopic plastic pieces in our seafood and our water. Over time, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it takes hundreds or even thousands years for it to truly decompose. Those styrofoam cups that people drink their coffee from for maybe ten or twenty minutes? They last, essentially, forever. Styrofoam never decomposes. And, plastic grocery bags? They take hundreds of years to break down, and they never fully decompose, either. There’s simply no good reason to use styrofoam containers or plastic bags when there are better alternatives out there. Can you email your legislator, and ask them to ban styrofoam take-out containers and plastic bags?
Here in Oregon, we’re known for our wild coastline, and our clean, public beaches, that are, in some places, almost untouched. If you love the ocean as much as I do, please email your representative today. HB 2509 and HB 2883 would significantly reduce Oregon’s plastic pollution, and help protect our waterways. By moving on from plastic, we’d be saving the oceans, saving the whales, and, beyond that, we’d be saving ourselves.