A Core Threat to Wild Animals and Marine Life: The Importance of Reducing Single-Use Plastics
Plastic bags, straws, cups, bottles, and food containers litter the world in its entirety, from city streets to the slopes of Mount Everest and remote Antarctic ice. Single-use plastics, which include products made from an array of tongue-tying compounds like polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS or styrofoam), and expandable polystyrene (EPS), are made from hydrocarbons, including oil, natural gas, and other petrochemical feedstocks. They are notoriously difficult to recycle. In fact, globally, less than 10% of plastics are recycled. And even some so-called “biodegradable” plastics can take a long time to break down, leaving behind microplastics.
Plastics don’t just create an eye-sore. For many wild animals, they are staggeringly lethal. In the ocean, especially, plastics wreak havoc on an industrial scale. Countless fish, seabirds, sea turtles, cetaceans, pinnipeds, and corals die every year through ingestion of plastics or entanglement. To zoom in on just one group of species, a recent study found that plastic ingestion causes up to 17.5% of near-shore albatross deaths in the southern hemisphere. Plastics are not just adding pressure at the margins; they are in fact a core threat to many marine species.
We are committed to supporting efforts to reduce the manufacture, sale, and use of single-use plastics. Accordingly, when Oceana Peru asked the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment (GLA) to lend our voice to condemn a bill that would undo much of the progress Peru has made in recent years to address pollution from single-use plastics, we didn’t hesitate to say yes. Peru’s famed marine biodiversity suffers on a daily basis from single-use plastics. Plastic pollution in Peru injures sea turtles, dolphins, fur seals, sea birds, and other animals that migrate through or reside in Peruvian waters.
The backstory is one of headway followed by regression. In 2018, Peru passed a law to reduce waste from single-use plastics. Among other measures, the law calls for a ban on the manufacture and sale of packaging made from expanded polystyrene (a.k.a., ESP or “tecnopor”). Essentially a variant of styrofoam, expanded polystyrene is used in Peru in disposable plates and bowls and to store carry-out food, as it is in other countries. But in early October, a group of lawmakers proposed to delay the ESP ban by two years.
Concerned that the bill may well win the necessary support in Congress, Ocean Peru drafted a public letter calling for lawmakers to vote against the delay. GLA was proud to sign the letter, joining 13 other local organizations. The effort has garnered attention in leading Peruvian newspapers–and, we hope, in the halls of the national legislature.
Our environment and the wild animals that call it home too often pay the price for human folly. In the case of our addiction to single-use plastics, the price is steeper than we can imagine. The solution is clear: we need to stop producing, selling, and using these products in the first place.
How can you get involved in helping? Here are some ideas:
- Reduce, or better yet, eliminate the use of single-use plastics in your daily lives;
- Call upon your elected representatives to pass legislation aimed at reducing the manufacture, sale, and use of single-use plastics;
- Learn about the harmful (and even lethal) impacts of single-use plastics on the animals with whom we share the planet—many people are unaware of the magnitude of the problem;
- Share this blog on social media to help us raise awareness;
- Donate to the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment to support our work on behalf of wild animals around the world.
Nick Fromherz is a senior staff attorney at the Global Law Alliance. Previously, Nick served as a Visiting Assistant Professor, teaching courses within Lewis & Clark’s Environmental, Natural Resources, and Energy Law program. Since 2015, Nick has taught Administrative Law at Lewis & Clark Law School during several summer sessions. Combining this experience with his considerable time living and working in Latin America, Nick expands the Global Law Alliance’s footprint in the Americas while building on its international wildlife practice.
The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was founded in 2008 with a mission to educate the next generation of animal law attorneys and advance animal protection through the law. With vision and bold risk-taking, CALS has since developed into a world-renowned animal law epicenter, with the most comprehensive animal law curriculum offered anywhere. In addition, CALS is the only program that offers an advanced legal degree in animal law (both in person and online) and three specialty Animal Law Clinics. In 2020, CALS launched the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment, as champions for wild animals and wild spaces, in collaboration with Lewis & Clark Law School’s #1 ranked Environmental Law Program. CALS is a fully self-funded nonprofit organization operating under the Lewis & Clark College 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and is only able to provide these educational opportunities through donations and grants.