Abid Anwar says our oceans are ‘drowning in plastic’

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More than a third of the sperm whales found dead in the eastern Mediterranean since 2001 have been killed by plastic debris. Seven species of turtles are at risk of extinction largely to poisoning from plastic. Not to be facetious, but it is true, our oceans are drowning in plastic. My first hand experience occurred during my spring break, when I signed up for a “beachside adventure” in the Dominican Republic. What I saw and learned has made me an environmentalist. It also has instilled in me a new understanding of recycling. I was 15 years old and never traveled by myself. I think my nervousness made me more acutely perceptive of my surroundings. The bus ride to my base camp took me through impoverished communities living predominantly in mud and straw huts. During my 9-day trip I was able to have plenty of interactions with the locals and children. What impressed me the most is how upbeat they appeared in the absence of what can be considered necessities (air conditioning, WiFi, etc.) in the United States. During my stay, I befriended a 12 year-old boy. He was from a homeless family consisting of a mother and two kids (son and daughter). They were living on the beach for the past year. Our group would spend the morning combing the beach for plastic debris, which was the beachside cleanup portion of the program. We would then separate the plastic bottles and use them as bricks to make a house for the family. The group before us had already provided the foundation. I learned the basics of masonry but using plastic instead! The son would work along side us till dusk, and afterward we played soccer with him. He was a very happy-go-lucky and sanguine kid, who deeply appreciated the work we were doing. Since my return, I heard Starbucks plans to rid their stores of plastic straws in an effort to be more “green”. Continued effort on a local, business, and global level will be needed to mitigate this self created plastic maelstrom taking its toll on the environment and wildlife. On this trip we helped protect local wild life with our efforts and made a difference for at least this particular family. I wholly believe now is the time this world needs a face-lift. It is time to take our waste and put it to good use!

— Abid Anwar, 19, Illinois