It’s no surprise that plastic pollution is a growing problem that affects wildlife and their habitats in various ways.
The never-ending mantra, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle has been drilled into us since before I can even remember.
From entanglement and ingestion to the destruction of habitats, plastic pollution is having a major impact on wildlife populations and ecosystems worldwide.
Today, we’re going to delve a little deeper into the impact of plastic pollution on our wildlife and what we can do to address this crisis once and for all.
If you haven't yet, get the full picture and check out our previous blog on climate change by clicking here!
what is plastic pollution?
Let’s first cover the basics.
When we talk about plastic pollution, we’re simply referring to the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment.
This can be plastic bags, packaging, fishing gear - the list is endless!
And all of it can have serious impacts on wildlife and their habitats.
the impact of plastic pollution on our wildlife
entanglement and ingestion
One of the most serious impacts of plastic pollution on wildlife is entanglement and ingestion - especially when it comes to our marine life
How many of you have seen the classic pictures of our little tuxedo-wearing penguins stuck in plastic beer can holders? It even makes an appearance in the well-known animation Happy Feet!
The scourge of plastic spreads far beyond the ocean - from our beautiful birds to our walking wildlife, the effects of plastic pollution are felt far and wide.
Many of these species become entangled in plastic waste, which can lead to suffocation, starvation, and death.
Ingestion of plastic waste can also lead to blockages in the digestive tract, malnutrition, and death.
This last point is extremely common in our land animals, especially ruminants like Impala and Buffalo whose complex 4-chambered stomachs make them an easy target for plastic blockages.
The Ruminant Stomach
destruction of habitats
Plastic pollution can also contribute to the destruction of habitats, which can have a major impact on wildlife populations.
For example, plastic waste can wash up on shorelines and beaches, which are important habitats for many species.
If we had to look at how our hermit crabs are affected by this, we would find that around 570,000 crabs each year become entrapped in plastic, severely cutting down their populations (J. Lavers et al., 2020).
Whether this waste traps, smothers, buries, or simply poses barriers to the normal movements of our wildlife, the end result is catastrophic.
toxins and chemicals
Plastic pollution can also have indirect impacts on wildlife through the release of toxic chemicals and pollutants.
What many don’t realize is that plastic waste can act as a sponge, absorbing and concentrating toxic chemicals and pollutants from the environment, including heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
When wildlife ingests or is exposed to these contaminated plastics, they can suffer from a variety of health impacts, most commonly reproductive problems and cancer (C. Campanale et al., 2020).
what can we do to address this crisis?
reduce plastic use and waste
What was that mantra again?
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
Reducing plastic use and waste is one of the most important things that can be done to address the impact of plastic pollution on wildlife.
This can be done by using fewer or reusing single-use plastics, such as bags and packaging, and by properly disposing of plastic waste.
With so many companies making the switch to alternative packaging materials, this also means boycotting companies or products that insist on only using single-use plastics.
As of 2022, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Nestle were ranked as the world’s largest plastic polluters for the 5th year in a row (Waste Management World, 2023).
support plastic pollution prevention and clean-up efforts
Supporting plastic pollution prevention and clean-up efforts is also important for addressing the impact of plastic pollution on wildlife.
This can be done by supporting organizations that work to prevent and clean up plastic pollution, as well as by participating in local clean-up efforts and beach clean-up events.
Local clean-up efforts are becoming an increasingly common movement and are a quick and easy way that you can get involved almost anywhere!
There are loads of platforms available to guide you to your nearest trash clean-up - Ocean Conservancy’s interactive clean-up map is only one of many!
advocate for stronger plastic pollution policies and regulations
Advocating for stronger plastic pollution policies and regulations is another important step in addressing the impact of plastic pollution on wildlife.
Although this is a more difficult solution to employ on your own, it’s not impossible.
By supporting legislation that addresses plastic pollution, such as bans on single-use plastics, and by advocating for stronger enforcement of existing plastic pollution regulations, we can make a difference.
support research and monitoring efforts
Supporting research and monitoring programs is also important for understanding the impact of plastic pollution on wildlife and for developing effective solutions.
You can even participate in citizen science efforts to monitor plastic pollution if you get the opportunity!
(United Nations Development Programme, 2022)
The conversation on plastic pollution is always a grim one, but it’s one we cannot let fall silent.
We can’t sit back and let the lives of those around us fall prey to our actions.
We are the problem, and we are the solution.
We are given the opportunity every single day to wake up and make a difference.
Choose to make that difference with us today by clicking here - the battle is only lost when we say so.