5 Single Use Plastic Items To Ditch To Save Marine Life

From the smaller rocky shore species that inhabit our coastlines to the larger majestic marine mammals that live in our seas, millions of marine species die annually as a result of plastic. 80% of the plastic in our oceans comes from the land. A few simple changes can make a real difference for our marine life.

1. Single use plastic bags.

Why?

Single use plastic bags are a real problem for sea turtles. In fact, 52% of the world’s turtles have eaten plastic waste, with a large portion being single use plastic bags. Sea turtles confuse these plastic bags with their preferred prey, jellyfish. They spot plastic bags being carried along in the current, and will often consume them. Once eaten these bags can cause intestinal blockages, leaving sea turtles unable to feed and they eventually die due to starvation.

It’s not just sea turtles at risk from single use plastic bags. In 2018, a dead pilot whale had 80 plastic shopping bags blocking its digestive tract and therefore died as a result of starvation. 

The simple swap

Say no to a plastic bag during your next shop. Kerb the demand for single use plastic bags by bringing your own reusable version that you can use time and time again. It is even better if your reusable bag is made from a non plastic material, such as cotton. You will then have even less plastic waste at the end of its lifecycle.

Turtle swimming near plastic

2. Plastic water bottles

Why?

Plastic waste that easily floats, such as single use plastic water bottles, are easily transported via ocean currents. Studies have now shown that these drifting items are increasingly likely to act as a raft, carrying several organisms. In fact, ‘Plastic Oceans UK’ state that at least 387 species have been found attached to floating or beached litter.

Single use plastic is therefore enabling a variety of invasive species to travel thousands of miles and reach new habitats. This can then result in a dramatic altering of several ecosystems through the displacement of native species, therefore threatening overall biodiversity.

The simple swap

Say no to single use plastic water bottles by getting yourself a reusable water bottle. The quantity of single use plastic bottles floating in our seas means transportation opportunities for non-native species are rapidly increasing. Cutting down on single use items of plastic is a great way to limit the amount entering our oceans.

Bottle amongst rubbish in the sea

3. Single use plastic straws

Why?

Seabirds are just one of many marine species that are negatively affected by single use plastic straws. When seabirds are foraging for food, they will often gather floating plastic items, such as single use straws, mistaking them for their typical prey. 99% of all seabirds have consumed plastic, with straws posing a particular threat. Due to the cylindrical shape, straws often get stuck in the throat of seabirds and result in death due to choking. Plastic straws are also a big problem as they are often too light to be recycled, ending up in landfill or even worse, straight into our oceans. 

The simple swap

The easiest (and cheapest!) step you can make doesn’t require an alternative. If you do not need a straw to drink, simply refuse straws in restaurants and bars, and drink straight from the glass. If you would like to invest in a reusable option, you can purchase ones made from a variety of materials, including stainless steel, bamboo and paper. You can even buy collapsible straws.

Tern

4. Single use facemasks

Why?

Unfortunately there is a new plastic threat on the rise and that is the increasing amount of single use plastic PPE being found in our oceans. These items, like other plastic marine debris, may potentially be consumed by species that mistake them for prey. These plastic products will then block species intestine tracts, resulting in starvation.

These single use items of PPE will continue to negatively impact the marine environment in other ways. When weathered by wave action, these items will shred and continue to break down into microplastics. These tiny particles of plastic are often consumed by marine species, accumulating in several marine food webs over time. The effects of plastic build up in marine food webs is not fully known, yet studies have highlighted several negative impacts including the altering of species cognitive response and overall health.

The simple swap

It is important to still wear a facemask when required to do so, so why not try a cotton reusable facemask. Many stores are selling these but it is also fairly easy to create and personalise your own. The longevity of these masks halts the quantity of PPE items being discarded and entering our marine environment. For single use plastic gloves it is important to dispose of them correctly.

Man carrying discarded facemasks

5. Plastic Balloons

Why?

Party balloons are a perfect example of a plastic item that is often disposed of, once used. These items are another major threat to marine species, especially seabirds. 5% of plastic consumption by seabirds are that of ‘soft’ plastics. However of this 5%, 40% of all items identified were balloons. Seabirds consume these items, mistaking them for prey, such as squid. It is not only birds that are consuming these items, with evidence showing a stranded loggerhead turtle hatchling, less than a few weeks old, pooped out an entire party balloon. It is alarming that this rare variety of plastics are leading to a disproportionate number of deaths.

The simple swap

It is possible to source some plastic free alternatives and biodegradable balloons. If it is for a celebration why not try decorating with more environmentally friendly reusable paper bunting? However if you are wanting to really save our seas and pick an eco option, it is sometimes best to ask yourself how necessary these items really are? One of the keys to a more sustainable world is to reduce the amount of items we go through on a daily basis. So next time ask yourself, can I go without? As it is evident that the marine species in our seas certainly could. 

Single red balloon on sand