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Plastic bottle on coral reef (Image by Jenny Lord/Shutterstock)

The not-so-secret truth about how plastic is harming our oceans

At the recent British High Commission Awards Evening, Anthony Yee from the Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore presented some interesting and disturbing facts about plastic pollution, particularly in oceans and seas.

Mr Anthony spoke about the three inconvenient truths about plastic. The first is that a staggering 35% of all manufactured plastics end up in our oceans and seas. Consequently, in 2050 there will be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the seas and oceans – that’s the second inconvenient truth. And it’s a scary one at that.

Finally but not least, in spite of what we the public have been told time and time again, synthetic plastic is not biodegradable. This is because plastic simply cannot be digested by any bacteria owing to the fact that plastic is not a natural product. What these ‘biodegradable’ plastics actually do is breakdown into smaller pieces that are eventually invisible to the naked eye. But it’s still there in the environment, continuing to pollute the earth and waiting to be unwittingly consumed by animals.

In June this year, international attention was brought to the issue after a male pilot whale was reported dead after a five-day rescue attempt in Thailand and some 80 pieces of plastic rubbish weighing eight kg were discovered in its stomach.

Mr Anthony also pointed out the uncomfortable truth that the production of plastic, like any product, is driven by demand and demand is fuelled by consumption. So the only way to modify the demand for plastic is by modifying our use and consumption of it. All we need to save the planet from being smothered by plastic is a simple attitude change.

Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit running shoes Image by Nike)

One way to do that is to improve our recycling model. We see it done in countries like Denmark where waste recycling is so efficient that they’re even importing trash to keep their recycling plants running. Also, getting bigger companies and brands involved can be quite powerful. Companies like Nike and Adidas have produced over a million pairs of shoes using recycled plastic, proving that a paradigm shift is not only impossible but can also be profitable.

That’s on a manufacturing level. On the consumers' side, it’s safe to say that reducing our dependency on single-use plastic is a great way get the public involved on an individual level. Plastic pollution is a significantly terrifying problem we’re facing right now, so even a seemingly small change in policy and attitude can actually make a huge difference. This of course is in contrast to the position taken by the Minister of Environment and Water Resources, Mr Masagos Zulkifli recently who was quoted saying, “If you want me to charge for plastic bags I can. But I don't think that's how we want to be as a society". Instead, Mr Zulkifli wants to focus on what he considers to be more important -  tackling e-waste.

According to the Singapore's National Environment Agency, over 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2017 with only 6% of it being recycled. This is a troubling statistic that needs to be dealt with immediately or we risk poisoning our entire planet and therefore also our own lives.