The trash, chemicals, sewage and other pollutants that we dump into our waters aren’t just unsightly. They also harm the health of marine life, damage ecosystems and contaminate drinking water.
Plastic waste that ends up in waterways kills more than 100,000 sea birds and turtles each year. Runoff of fertilizers and various chemicals from farms can contribute to the formation of harmful algal blooms, which produce toxins that can poison marine life. When people eat seafood that has absorbed this, as well as the chemicals released by plastics and other pollution, they become sick.
Ocean and water pollution is a large-scale problem. In the U.S., 40 percent of rivers and 46 percent of lakes are considered unfit for swimming, fishing or aquatic life due to pollution.
About 14 billion pounds of garbage, most of which is plastic, gets dumped into oceans each year.
Can we stop water pollution?
Water pollution is a growing problem that could be as dangerous as climate change. Is there anything we can do? Can we fix this problem before it’s too late?
It won’t be easy, but there are some things we can do to counter and slow the impact pollution is having on our waterways, marine life and our own health.
1. Reduce plastic use
By using less plastic, you can stop pollution at its source. Plastic is one of the biggest polluters of the ocean, so avoid it whenever possible. Bring your own reusable bags to the store. Use refillable water bottles instead of buying bottled water and bring a reusable mug to the coffee shop. There are tons of ways to cut down on plastic use. Just try to replace anything plastic with something you can use multiple times.
If you find there’s something that needs to be plastic, look for recyclable varieties, especially #1 (PETE) and #2 (HDPE).
2. Avoid harmful chemicals
Avoid using chemicals that may find their ways into waterways. Don’t use fertilizer on your yard, as it may wash away and eventually end up in the water. When cleaning, opt for nontoxic products whenever possible. Often, you can use common household items like vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda.
3. Go organic
Buying organic produce can also help to reduce the amount of chemicals that end up in oceans and rivers. Organic farmers don’t use the potentially harmful fertilizers and pesticides that others do, which can wash away into waterways.
Every time you buy organic produce, you’re encouraging stores to keep buying organics and farmers to keep producing them. Although it may seem like this wouldn’t make much of a difference, the more people do it, the more influential it becomes. Eventually, it may lead to a larger societal change.
4. Volunteer at cleanups
Volunteering with environmental organizations can have a more direct effect. You could sign up for ocean, river or lake cleanup events and pick up trash from in and near the water. Not only does this physically remove pollution from the water, but it also spreads awareness of the issue.
You might also find volunteer opportunities with local organizations that involve supporting ocean-friendly legislation or encouraging businesses to be more sustainable.
5. Spread the word
Lots of volunteer organizations also have opportunities to go out and talk to people about the importance of stopping ocean pollution. They may hold events, have a booth at another organization’s event or just go out on the street and talk to people.
You could do this in a more organized way with one of these groups, or you could help spread the word yourself. Just talking with friends, family and others you encounter makes more people aware of the problem and may help bring about a solution. You could also consider contacting one of your representatives in government to express your concerns about ocean pollution, especially if they’re considering a related law.
The pollution of our waterways is a serious problem that could have significant impacts on the health of our environment, marine life and human health. It’s a huge problem to tackle, but there are some steps you can take to help prevent the oceans from becoming more polluted.
This is a guest post written by Emily Folk.