Thousands of bombs are launched. They spin through the atmosphere, twisting around the whole Earth. Then, they explode! Toxic material rains down into the oceans. Animals become mutilated. They suffocate or starve. Many die.
This catastrophe may sound apocalyptic, but it is already happening. Such a simple thing as a balloon release in celebration or mourning can cause detrimental effects on wildlife and ecosystem health.
There’s a lot to say on packaging designs and pollution, but I’m going to focus on four plastic products and their effects on ocean species.
Plastic as a light-weight material is easily picked up by winds and blown up into the atmosphere where it can fly around the world before coming back down. Plastics also float which allows them to be transported by water currents through stream systems and eventually end up in the ocean or larger lakes. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is where a lot of our plastic waste gathers in the ocean. But plastic can float in water or air anywhere around the world and endanger animals everywhere.
Balloon releases are one thing that upsets me immensely. Any time a balloon floats up into the atmosphere, I see the soul of an animal floating up with it. While some balloons say that they are biodegradable, that only means that they break down. That plastic is still around and can get into an animal’s systems. Many balloons are not biodegradable. If I’m walking around a forest or floating down a river, it’s disgusting to find a shriveled plastic balloon or bag snagged in a tree branch.
A major problem in today’s culture is that we don’t think about the end results of what we do. If everyone thought about where those balloons and plastic bags end up, they’d be less likely to let them fly away so easily. Now, I think balloon releases do have a happy energy to them—a bunch of colorful dots floating up into the sky. But, we can find alternatives or at least make sure that the balloons are biodegradable. It’s easy to just change our personal choices and not buy balloons or plastic bags. Personally, I think bubbles are a beautiful option.
Plastic rings are another big culprit that kills many animals. Surely, you’ve seen a sea turtle with a six-pack ring around their neck or back fins in a picture or commercial. Entrapment can be prevented by cutting the rings apart, which is what I do whenever I end up with plastic rings. I recycle all of my plastic, but you never know what might fall out of the truck on the way to the recycling facility. Although, even if the rings are cut, animals may still try to eat the plastic. This video shows another alternative that uses waste-product from beer processing to create an edible and biodegradable packaging material: Edible Beer Packaging.
Lastly, microbeads. Many hand soaps, face scrubs, etcetera use tiny plastic beads as an exfoliating agent. But when you wash the bubbles down the drain, those tiny plastic beads spiral down the pipes and slip through filters and into water sources. These tiny plastic beads don’t break down. Fish end up with the beads inside their gills just by breathing in the water. The plastic can clog up their gills and suffocate them. There are plenty of cleansing products that do not use microbeads or that use natural particles such as sand or shell particles that accomplish the same exfoliating effect.
There are many other products that need redesigned and plastic is used more often than necessary, but balloons, plastic bags, packaging rings, and microbeads are a few of the destructive products that we see every day and can find easy alternatives with our personal choices.