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New Film Drives Home Impacts of Single-Use Plastics on Oceans, Wildlife, Humans

Image credit: Justin Lewis and Michelle Stauffer/National Geographic

A new short film featured by National Geographic highlights the plight of the Sargasso Sea – a diverse ecosystem of free-floating seaweed and unique wildlife – that is threatened by plastic waste. From microplastics to bioaccumulation, Care About the Ocean? Think Twice About Your Coffee Lid walks viewers through the dangers of plastic pollution in the Sargasso Sea (and other parts of the ocean) – and for human health.

The Sargasso Sea, located near Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean, is the only sea not defined by land boundaries. The buildup of plastics in the Sargasso Sea has elicited comparisons to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; fish and other animals are eating small pieces of plastic that have broken down in the water, which can kill them or make its way up the food chain as those fish are eaten by larger and larger fish. In turn, the larger fish may eventually end up on our plates. In fact, one study found that a quarter of fish sampled from fish markets in California and Indonesia contained man-made plastic or fibrous material in their guts.

“Prior to beginning this project, we had several of the same misconceptions about the garbage patches that many people still have today. When you think of a garbage patch, you envision something with considerable mass, like a densely packed island of large plastic objects. In reality it’s worse. There are millions of pieces of microplastic that float on the top two to three meters of the ocean’s surface that span across every major ocean on the planet,” Lewis and Stauffer explained.

Some reports have estimated that over 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the world’s oceans – and that there is much more in the deep sea. While the majority of the film does not specifically harp on coffee cup lids, the title does call attention to one of the most prevalent sources of single-use plastic. Coffee cups have been a high profile topic recently due to their prevalence and recycling challenges associated with their mixed composition.

“The objective of the film was to create awareness about the rapidly growing issue of plastic pollution and to inspire people to make small changes to their lifestyle that can have an impact on the problem,” the creators said. “By refusing single-use plastics whenever possible, we are each making a choice to reduce the amount of waste we produce and work together to preserve our planet for generations to come.”

Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]

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