Plastic Pollution in Hawaii: A Growing Problem
Plastic pollution in Hawaii is a persistent and growing problem that harms not only ocean life and its associated ecosystems but also human health and wellbeing. A staggering 15 to 20 tons of marine waste are washed up on the shores of Hawaii every year, according to the Hawaii Wildlife Fund.
Even more plastic waste, especially notorious microplastics, lurk within or on the surface of the surrounding oceans. It is clear that a rapid increase in plastic consumption over the past few decades has been the overarching cause of plastic pollution in Hawaii, and all over the globe. However, what are the specific regional causes? How exactly does plastic harm ocean life? And what can we do to mitigate this growing and persistent crisis?
What causes plastic pollution in Hawaii?
There is no one primary cause of plastic pollution in Hawaii, and it is an ongoing and multi-faceted situation. One reason for a high amount of plastic pollution in the state of Hawaii is the use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics, as the name implies, refers to plastic products that can only be used once. Single use plastics are encompassed by a broad range of industries and can be damaging to the local environment if they are not disposed of properly. The virulent tourism industry in Hawaii further exacerbates this problem by promoting visitors to buy as many products as possible, many of them consequently including single-use plastics.
Additionally, Hawaii's close proximity to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (which is a massive region in the pacific that has a high concentration of plastic) further increases the degree of pollution that occurs. Another contributor to the plastic problem is fishing. Conventional fishing around the islands can cause nets, and other fishing equipment to get lost and subsequently contribute to the already large amounts of plastic waste in Hawaii. In fact, commercial fishing nets contribute to 46% percent of waste in the great pacific garbage patch, according to Earth.org.
How does plastic pollution affect ocean life?
Aside from being aesthetically unappealing, plastic pollution adversely affects ocean life forms in numerous ways. One of the most common and universally known ways plastics harm organisms is through accidental ingestion.
Additionally, marine life forms frequently get stuck or trapped in fishing nets, and many other types of plastic. Organisms can even be harmed by consuming smaller prey that have consumed plastic. Consistent, chronic consumption and entrapment in plastic, kills many marine creatures, further contributing to our destabilizing ocean ecosystems.
Plastic waste can also affect human health. The consumption of local fish who have eaten plastics before they were caught may have serious impacts on prenatal developments, according to Earth.org.
What can we do to combat plastic pollution in Hawaii?
Ocean cleanups and beach cleanups are certainly beneficial and needed methods to reduce pollution. However, targeting more systemic, root causes of the issue may be even more useful. We could, as a state, take legislative action and ban single use plastics. Luckily, there is already precedent for a potential ban, as Hawaii has already banned all single-use plastic food containers in 2019. Encouraging recycling and regulating the commercial fishing industry and its consistent disregard for the environment are also good steps towards combating this issue.