By Brendan Cox
For much of human history, the oceans were a relatively untouched ecosystem. However, as our populations have grown ever larger, our strain on the vitality of the seven seas has become almost irreversible. Our pollutants and waste fill estuaries, kill ocean life, and form one of the most understated issues concerning the survival of the human race.
When we think of plastic pollution in our oceans, our minds are often drawn to harrowing images of wildlife entangled in nets and videos of marine animals eating improperly discarded packaging. It is rare that we consider the effects on humanity that plastic in our oceans creates; when we do, we worry predominantly about the dwindling supplies of fish as a consumable foodstuff. The reality is that plastic in our oceans creates a much more subtle yet direct threat to humans’ supposed reign over planet Earth.
Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that form an integral part of both the oceanic food chain and the carbon cycle. Additionally, according to EarthSky.org, scientists claim that phytoplankton contribute between 50% and 80% of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. This statistic is outstanding because it indicates that a staggering amount of the world’s oxygen (without which humans cannot survive) derives from our oceans’ plant life. This statistic is also nauseating because it reminds us that our survival depends heavily upon healthy oceans. And yet, we continually pollute our oceans with blatant disregard for our species’ longevity.
When plastic waste enters the ocean via sewage or waste disposal, it does not take long to contaminate the food chain. Dead sea creatures, from tiny fish to great whales, are often found with bellies filled with indigestible plastics. Once their bodies have decomposed, the plastics remain to further poison the ecosystem. When the food chain is disrupted, the phytoplankton on which our survival relies are heavily affected, both indirectly by the change in the food chain and directly as they mistakenly consume the plastic.
According to The Journal of the Institution of Environmental Sciences, it is estimated that 1.4 million sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet every day. Coupled with the statistic that the average pack of sanitary pads contains as much plastic as four carrier bags, we realise that it’s essential to turn the tide of the conversation towards better and more sustainable behaviours when it’s that time of the month.
Using #PlasticFree products is one way you can avoid putting our oceans at risk, but also you can try to normalise the conversation about what products you actually use. Honest conversations about reusable cups and plastic-free applicators are essential because so many people are simply unaware of the damage that their current products can cause, or even unaware that there are any other better alternatives. Don’t let your period products’ waste wash up on our beaches or become part of the 8% of all waste that enters water treatment plants in the UK*, as according to Natracare.
If you flush period products down the toilet, you must remain aware that your behaviours have a deep impact. You must be aware that your behaviours are polluting the environment. Please consider these behaviours and become more mindful about the impact that your monthly cycle can have on the lifecycles of others.
*Natracare found that of all waste treated at water plants in the UK, 8% derived from period waste.
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