Stop Plastic Pollution on Endangered Species Day

May 17 is Endangered Species Day, which is an opportunity for people around the world to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species and everyday actions we can take to protect them.

About Endangered Species

An animal is considered endangered when its numbers in the wild have dropped so low that it’s at great risk of extinction. Today there are 41,415 endangered species on the IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List. Of those 41,415 species, 16,306 are considered endangered species threatened with extinction. Sadly, according to a recent UN report this number might soon be much higher, and it is largely the result of human behavior.

The UN report states: “Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before,” and estimates that “around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken.”

The report also shows that one of the main threats to nature is plastic pollution, which has increased tenfold since 1980. According to the report, marine plastic pollution has affected at least 267 species, including 86% of marine turtles, 44% of seabirds, and 43% of marine mammals. Marine animals die every day from ingesting plastic of all sizes.

What Can You Do?

There are many things you can do on a daily basis to help protect endangered species, including committing to refusing single-use plastic whenever possible. Here are a couple of easy ways to cut plastic out of your life to help protect endangered species:

-Bring your own reusable water bottle instead of buying single-use plastic ones

-Say “No straw, please” when dining at a restaurant

-Bring your own reusable bag when you go shopping

-Carry reusable utensils and containers to work or school

-Bring your own mug or tumbler when getting coffee to-go

Join Plastic Pollution Coalition as individual or as a representative of your business or organization

-Speak up and demand companies reduce the plastic footprint

What is your favorite way to go plastic-free?

Photo: Green Turtle hatchling climbing over plastic bottle strewn on the beach, Juani Island, Tanzania. @wwf_australia

Reports from the Seattle, Washington area, show that bald eagles – the American national bird – are taking hazardous waste and plastic pollution from a local landfill and dropping it in suburban back yards.

The federally protected birds are visiting the open-air Cedar Hills Regional Landfill in King County, which was supposed to have been closed years ago, but a proposed expansion has kept it open.

Popular Mechanics reports that over two tons of trash are brought to the location every day, and landfill staff estimate that around 200 eagles have made the area their home, scavenging for anything they can find and dropping their scraps everywhere else.

“Anybody that lives within close flying distance of the landfill knows that the eagles deposit this stuff everywhere,” said resident David Vogel to the Seattle Times.

At a city council meeting, Vogel held up a sealed plastic bag containing human blood that he said he’d found in his yard, just west of the landfill property.

Trash and plastic pollution can choke, poison, or otherwise harm eagles. Over 260 animal species, including invertebrates, turtles, fish, seabirds, and mammals, have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, resulting in impaired movement and feeding, reduced reproductive output, lacerations, ulcers, and death.

Avery Thompson of Popular Mechanics wrote:

There’s something almost poetic about the American national bird reminding people that the trash they throw in a landfill doesn’t simply disappear. In a way, these birds are a visceral demonstration of the usually hidden consequences of extreme consumption. We create too much trash, and that much trash creates consequences. That could mean eagles dropping biohazard containers in your front lawn, or it could mean nearly 20 tons of plastic washing up on one of the most remote beaches in the world.

While some short-term solutions like closing a landfill or pulling trash out of the ocean might temporarily fix the problem, the only way to really live in a world where our trash doesn’t come back to haunt us is to be smarter about how much of it we create.

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition, said: “The Eagle, the National bird  of U.S. bringing bits of hazardous waste and plastic pollution back to our yards is both ironic and a wake up call. It’s time to stop polluting the planet with plastic for the health of humans and animals, and for the sake of the birds and the bees.”

Join our global Coalition.

A viral video of a fisherman pulling pieces of plastic, including three plastic bottle caps, out of the stomach of a mahi mahi fish has prompted a new public outcry about the problem of plastic pollution and its toxic effects on wildlife and the environment. Watch the video. [Caution: content may not be suitable for all readers and viewers.]

The video shows a fisherman in Costa Rica slicing open the stomach of the mahi mahi (aka dolphinfish) and taking out bottle caps, bits of plastic, a mangled comb, and the plastic part of a cigarette lighter. The video has prompted questions: How many animals worldwide have stomachs full of plastic pollution? And why ARE so many plastic caps in our environment?

More research is needed to determine the answer to the first question, but studies have frequently shown entanglement, ingestion, and habitat disruption can result from plastic ending up in the spaces where animals live, both on land and in the water. 

To the second question, a conversation is playing out right now in California since Assembly Bill 319 was introduced. The bill would require that all single-use plastic bottles sold in California have the cap connected to the bottle. Connecting the cap to the bottle would allow the cap and bottle to be recycled together.

This is significant, since 5 billion plastic caps from bottles are released to the environment every year in California alone, and bottle caps are the third most common item picked up during California’s annual Coastal Cleanup Day. Plastic caps litter streets, parks, inland waterways, beaches, and oceans, and harm wildlife who mistake them for food. 

“If you’re old enough to remember walking the beaches of Malibu or Coronado in the 1970s, you can vouch for what was then often the truth of beach life in California – stepping on pop-tops, the aluminum ring that came off after opening a can of soda,” wrote Miriam Gordon, policy director at the UPSTREAM Policy Institute, in a recent op-ed for the Sacramento Bee. Gordon writes it’s useful to remember how pop-tops disappeared almost overnight when the beverage industry perfected a better way to seal aluminum cans: the stay-top, which remains attached and gets recycled along with the rest of the can.

A dead albatross with plastic caps in its stomach. Photo by Tandem Stills + Motion. 

Experts note that connecting the cap to the bottle can be accomplished easily. “Making the switch can be accomplished by adding a small blade to current capping equipment that inserts a slit into the cap,” wrote Paloma Aguirre and Trent Hodges in a recent piece for The San Diego Union Tribune. “Alternatively, since most bottlers replace capping machinery every few years anyway, a relatively quick transition to tethered caps could happen when equipment is being replaced.”

Some bottled water producers such as Crystal Geyser, are already offering their products with tethered caps, but many others have refused to voluntarily change. Gordon and other experts note that the bill would not only reduce pollution from plastic caps but would also help the state of California reach its 75 percent statewide recycling goal, since in-state plastic recyclers want plastic caps.

The time is now to pass legislation like AB 319. With China’s recent ban on plastic waste imports and plastic producers planning a massive scale-up over the coming decades, it’s critical for government to take action to stop plastic pollution — for the health of our environment, our waterways and oceans, and the animals too. 

Take Action: Tell your CA representative to connect the cap.

An 18-foot-long endangered whale shark washed ashore in Pamban South Beach, Tamil Nadu, India on Tuesday. Although experts said the whale shark died due to internal injuries from hitting a rock or large vessel, wildlife officials found plastic garbage–including a plastic spoon–in the animal’s digestive tract.

Wildlife ranger S Sathish, who examined the whale shark, told the The Times of India:  “It is a stark revelation how plastic waste is getting into the marine eco-system. The marine species can’t distinguish between floating plastic and prey.”

The whale shark was 18 feet long and 10 feet wide. Photo by The Times of India

The endangered whale shark is filter feeder, which eats by sucking water, plankton, and fish larvae into its mouth and filtering the water through the gills. Plastic pollution is an increasing threat as plastic debris in the world’s oceans outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1.

Plastic pollution harms wildlife when animals become entangled in plastic or they mistake it for food. Over 260 species, including invertebrates, turtles, fish, seabirds, and mammals, have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, resulting in impaired movement and feeding, reduced reproductive output, lacerations, ulcers, and death.

33 percent of discarded plastic, such as cutlery, bags, cups, bottles, and straws, are used just once and thrown away. Learn how you can refuse single-use plastic.

Read more on how plastic straws harm wildlife

The Turtle That Became the Anti-Plastic Straw Poster Child

New research published by the University of Missouri-Columbia shows the negative effects of chemical BPA on painted turtles’ brains. In previous studies, researchers determined that BPA can disrupt sexual function and behavior in painted turtles. In the new study, painted turtle eggs were incubated at male-permissive temperatures. Those exposed to BPA developed deformities to testes that held female characteristics. The new study went further by identifying the genetic pathways that were altered as a result of BPA exposure during early development.

“Turtles are known as an ‘indicator species’ because they can be used as a barometer for the health of the entire ecosystem,” reports Science Daily on the study. “By understanding the possible effects endocrine disrupting chemicals have on turtles, researchers might be able to understand the possible effects such compounds have on other species.”

Turtles are known as an ‘indicator species’ because they can be used as a barometer for the health of the entire ecosystem.

BPA is a chemical found in a wide variety of consumer products from food storage containers to cash register receipts and even beverage cans. BPA has been linked with increased risk for cardiovascular disease, breast and prostate cancer, early puberty, obesity, diabetes, infertility, erectile dysfunction, and learning and attention-related disorders.

A review of more than 800 studies published in the journal Endocrine Reviews shows that even extremely small doses of BPA can be toxic. The study authors conclude that due to the effects of low doses of hormone-disrupting chemicals, “fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.”

Read more on how chemicals in plastic impact animal and human health. 

Read the facts about plastic pollution. 

Get started living plastic-free.

By Jane Patton

In a recent investigative series, CNN International took an in-depth look at the alarming—and increasing—extinction rate of animal species worldwide, dubbed The Vanishing: Earth’s sixth era of extinction. Among five other species facing eradication from the planet, CNN’s team highlighted the albatrosses of the Midway Atoll and other Pacific islands who are, in mass numbers, choking to death on the staggering amount of plastic pollution in the oceans.

At the conclusion of this series, CNN released a call to action: conserve more, consume less, and directly fund organizations worldwide who are offering real solutions to prevent these potential extinctions. Plastic Pollution Coalition was honored to be one of the six organizations identified as leading the charge against single-use plastic and our dependence on fossil fuels.

But PPC would not exist without the everyday, on-the-ground work done by its member organizations. We only achieve the goals we set for ourselves to reduce our consumption, to support and pass legislation to regulate disposable plastic, and to change the narrative about single-use plastic so people stop using it and industry stops making it, through the investment and support of our members.

PPC has over 500 members in more than 60 countries across 6 continents. Each of them is doing work locally and globally to reduce our dependence on single-use plastic and therefore on fossil fuels. Each of them is worthy of your support.

Below are six organizations, among those 500+, who are taking the lead in their communities to bring plastic-free solutions to neighbors, local governments, and ultimately, the planet. We hope their accomplishments will inspire you—as they have us—to support their efforts in whatever ways you can.

Bahamas Plastic Movement

Kristal Ambrose has been leading citizen science initiatives in the Bahamas since 2013, teaching an entire generation of young people to take charge of their future. Students are developing an understanding of the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean and turning knowledge into action by working with local leaders to change waste policy.

Bye Bye Plastic Bags

Melati and Isabel are two teenagers on a mission: rid Bali of single-use plastic bags. They started with their own passion and grew that into an international network of young volunteers, petitioning for and achieving change. Be sure to watch their talk at TEDGlobal>London on how they learned to lead a movement to say goodbye, once and for all, to plastic bags.

Coral Triangle Center

CTC works on the ground in Indonesia. With intense training programs, dedicated learning networks, and a brand new Center for Marine Conservation, they’re raising awareness of the dangers faced by the coral reefs, and arming capable marine managers with real tools to prevent the destruction of remaining coral from pollution, overfishing, and climate change.

JUCCCE (Joint US-China Center for Clean Energy)

JUCCEE creates space for collaboration between scientists and leaders to catalyze systemic change in sustainable urbanization, sustainable industry, and sustainable consumption. They’re working to change the way China creates and uses energy, aiming to improve the health outcomes of all Chinese peopleand by extension, citizens everywhere.

Texas Campaign for the Environment

Do you like to knock on strangers’ doors? TCE staffers do. As the largest environmental group in Texas organizing support through door-to-door canvassing, they’re achieving victories against plastic pollution statewide: protecting curbside recycling, adopting plastic bag fees or bans, and ardently supporting city zero waste resolutions, just to name a few.

Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment

WISE has a simple vision: a safe and just environment for all people in Nigeria and worldwide. Through programs dedicated to promoting community action for responsible municipal waste management and hygiene, WISE is empowering women to advocate for safe drinking water and clean communities, free from plastic pollution.

Join our global Coalition.