Plastic Waste in the Aquatic Environment: Impacts and Management
The majority of consumer products used today is composed of some form of plastic. Worldwide, almost 280 million tons of plastic materials are produced annually, much of which end up in landfill or the oceans. Plastics are produced by the conversion of natural products or by synthesis from primary chemicals, generally from oil, natural gas or coal. In contemporary society, plastic has attained a pivotal status, with extensive commercial, industrial, medicinal and municipal applications. It affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species, and 43% of all marine mammal species. Marine animals are harmed mostly through ingestion, entanglement and subsequently strangulation. Ingested plastics debris has been found to reduce stomach capacity, hinder growth, cause internal injuries and create intestinal blockage. Plastics entanglement with nets or other materials can result in strangulation, reduction of feeding efficiency, and even drowning. Plastics pollution facilitates the transport of species to other regions, alien species hitchhike on floating debris and invade new ecosystem thereby causing a shift in species composition or even extinction of other species. Legislation, prohibiting the disposal of plastics in the sea, introducing of biodegradable plastics, recycling of plastics and public awareness campaigns to discourage littering are various ways in which this problem can be minimized. Other remedial measures include enforcing environmental laws, development of indigenous and homegrown knowledge for plastic waste management and development and implementation of quality standards for all plastic recycled products.