Marine Plastic Pollution: A Severely Under-addressed Issue
by birdsandpalmtrees on November 10, 2017 - 8:08pm
The article “Shocking photo shows Caribbean Sea being ‘choked to death by human waste’” discusses marine plastic pollution discovered off the coast of Honduras by a photographer. The purpose of the article is to inform readers about this particular incidence of marine plastic pollution. The evidence used in the article is photography and the photographer’s personal account of what she saw on this photography excursion. The plastic waste is described as consisting mostly of everyday household items – things like forks, spoons, bottles, chip bags, toothbrushes, flip-flops and more. The NGO Blue Planet Society speculates that the waste contributing to this mass comes from the Motagua River in Guatemala. People throw trash in rivers due to a lack of education and waste management infrastructure. The article states that improvements in waste management, education and increases in recycling rates will be crucial in addressing this problem.
A major issue with this article and other articles like it is that strategies for which to deal with existing marine plastic pollution are not mentioned. Discussion of potential strategies is something that could help strengthen the article – because even if we stopped putting plastic in the ocean tomorrow, there would still be a severe pollution problem to be solved. The severe negative effects that plastic pollution is having on the marine food chain cannot be overlooked. Plastic pieces are outnumbering plankton in some areas of the ocean (Peretzman and DeWald, 2015). Because plankton is at the very bottom of the food chain, this has serious implications for marine life. The discourse surrounding this problem is that stopping the production of plastic waste is the solution, and while this certainly needs to happen, it is not enough. There needs to be energy and resources put into innovating ways to clean up the existing mess.
Despite the severity of the marine plastic pollution problem, it receives little media attention. The reason for this can be explained by Downs’s concept of the issue-attention cycle. (Mitchell 2015) explains how every issue has to compete for the attention of the media. Additionally, the media tends to focus on environmental issues not based on their severity but rather on controversy and public concern towards them. Addressing the plastic pollution problem would force our society to do a complete overhaul of our food delivery and storage system – after all, practically everything we eat is packaged in plastic. This is where step three of the issue-attention cycle, realizing the cost of significant progress, becomes important. While some people are aware of the fact that the ocean is extensively polluted with plastic and the situation is worsening, they also realize that it would be extremely complicated, inconvenient and expensive for society to stop producing plastic waste. A gradual decline in public interest, step four, followed by the post-problem stage, step five, is the result.
More media coverage on marine plastic pollution is imperative if society is going to solve this problem and move past the ideas that 1) it is too difficult, inconvenient and/or expensive to solve and 2) that stopping the flow of waste is the only solution. Unfortunately, due to the lack of controversy surrounding this issue, the media is unlikely to pick up coverage anytime soon.
Molloy, M. (2017, October 26). Shocking photo shows Caribbean Sea being ‘choked to
death by human waste’. Retrieved November 8, 2017, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/26/shocking-photo-shows-caribbea...
Peretzman, A., & DeWald, F. (2015). Recycling Inconsistences: An Analysis of What
Really Happens to Consumer Waste. Public Speech Forum Journal, 1(1), 10-15. Retrieved November 10, 2017
Mitchell, B. (2015). Resource and environmental management in Canada. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.