Editor, WILD magazine
Plastic: the material of a thousand uses. Soon after its inception in 1907 by chemist Leo Baekeland, plastic did indeed own up to its claims. By 1950, 1.7 million metric tons of plastic was being churned out by the manufacturing industry to make everything from food packaging to office equipment — and its use has only skyrocketed as the years have passed. In 2013, plastic production rose to 299 million metric tons. Unfortunately, we don’t repurpose nearly as much as we should and so most of it ends up in landfills, with the rest lands in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.
The risk to marine life
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, nearly 100,000 marine mammals have trash-related deaths each year. For example, albatrosses living on the isolated island of Kure Atoll in the Pacific Ocean (close to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) have been found to gobble down five metric tonnes of plastic a year. Steller sea lion populations have declined by 80 percent over the past three decades, leading to their classification as a species of special concern in Canada. One of the enormous threats to these mammals? Entanglement.
Chemical contamination affects belugas
And there’s more bad news regarding plastic. As UV rays beam down onto plastic litter in the ocean, the chemical compounds can leach into the water. These chemicals are among the contaminants that appear to be affecting the St. Lawrence estuary population of beluga whales. The whales are listed as “endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. It’s unknown why these populations haven’t recovered, however, what is known is that these belugas have the highest rates of cancer and also carry one of the largest amounts of contaminants of any mammals.
What Canadian Wildlife Federation is doing
From sea turtles to seabirds and zooplankton to fish species, plastics are having a hugely detrimental effect on multiple species. The Canadian Wildlife Federation continues its efforts to help discourage the use single use plastics (some of the worst culprits) while looking for other solutions — including sustainable packaging — to reduce the impact of plastics pollution on our natural habitats.