ON March 16, curators at a wildlife museum in Davao City in the Philippines, received a call to collect a young whale that was severely emaciated, breathing its last and vomiting blood. By the time the marine experts reached the site, the whale was declared dead. But the real shock came when the large mammal’s body was transported to the museum’s lab for an autopsy — 40kg of plastic bags were recovered from its stomach. This included 16 rice sacks, four banana plantation-style bags and multiple shopping bags. Unable to digest nutrients due to the massive amount of plastic clogging its intestines, the whale likely died from starvation or gastric shock. In May 2018, another whale was recovered from the waters of southern Thailand. After five days of suffering, the unfortunate animal coughed out bits of plastic before it passed away. During the autopsy, 8kg of plastic bags were pulled out from its stomach. In 2017, an Ocean Conservancy report found that the Philippines and Thailand were among the top five countries dumping more plastic into the ocean than the rest of the world combined. But the issue is clearly not just a Southeast Asian phenomenon.
Modern civilisation’s addiction to plastic — and convenience — is costing the planet dearly. There is evidence that plastic has even infiltrated the deepest parts of the ocean ie over 10km below the surface. The worldwide production of plastic has increased to nearly 300m tonnes a year. Over 8m of that ends up in the oceans, where it can take anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years to disintegrate. When the first synthetic, mass-produced plastic was created in the early 20th century, it was heralded as one of the greatest inventions of modern times. Low-cost and easy to manufacture, it went on to change every aspect of human life and commerce. Unfortunately, its greatest strength — its durability — has come to haunt us and our future generations. Plastic is suffocating us all.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2019