Plasticsoup: Social Movement
Understanding Social Movements 3
Institutional measures 4
Goals of the social movement 5
Issues addressed by the movement 6
Effect on marine life 6
Sources of plastics 7
Health issues 8
Human settlement 8
Success of the social movement 9
Plasticis one of the greatest pollutants in the world that poses a threat toboth marine and terrestrial life. While the world is more concernedabout hazardous emissions from factories and automobiles, there is agreater pollutant closer home in the name of plastic. The majority ofproducts consumed at home or stocked in supermarkets and elsewhere ispacked in plastics. Milk, soft drinks, bread, sausages, electronicsand clothing among other consumables are wrapped in plastic. Suchplastics can be recycled or reused. When such plastics are disposedof, they may find their way to the world’s oceans hence the nameplastic soup. Given that plastics can take over 100-years tobiodegrade, they may have a far-reaching implication on theenvironment if handled inappropriately (Todd, Ong and Chou 1073).When they find their way to the oceans, they float not only causingan eyesore but posing a threat to marine life. Currently, there is a15-million square kilometers patch of floating plastics in thePacific which is almost the same size as Russia (“Plastic in oceanfacts”). Numerous studies have documented the impact on thisplastic soup and its long-term impact on life on the planet earth.Environmentalists and social activists have been at the forefront ofsocial movements that call for a reduction in the amount of plasticsdisposed of in world oceans and the environment in general. Thispaper presents a discussion on the social movement and socialactivism surrounding the plastic soup as a serious environmentalproblem.
Socialmovements have in the past addressed pressing social issues from acommunity perspective as opposed to the often dominant political andpolicy perspective. Social movements therefore are formed by ordinarypeople to address the needs and rights of ordinary people. Goodwinand Jasper (3) define the social movement as “conscious, concerted,and sustained efforts by ordinary people to change some aspect oftheir society by extra-institutional means.” By extra-institution,it implies that social movements seek to challenge or promote socialchange “outside of rules and procedures” (West 154). In short,social movements consist of individuals, groups, families or evensecondary stakeholders who join efforts to make known theirdiscomfort or dislike of certain things in society. By participatingin such a movement, these people desire to “produce change in theparticipants themselves, as well as in the world around them”(“Social Movements”). This change must be of a social naturegiven that any movement that that seeks to obtain a political goalqualifies to be a political movement (ibid).
Nevertheless,the distinction between social and political movement is sometimesviewed as irrelevant. This is because most social movements’ goalshave political implications (“Social Movements”). Perhaps themost widely known social movement was the civil rights movement inthe US that brought together African Americans to push forintegration into the mainstream American society. The movement, whichhad its roots in social inclusion metamorphosed to take politicalagendas. Some of the notable extra-institutional strategies employedwere protests, demonstrations, and civil disobedience. In the facemodern technologies and changes in society, several newextra-institutional measures that have been employed include streetgraffiti, vandalism, mocking caricatures and images, Facebook posts,and Twitter hashtags among others.
Institutionalmeasures can also be employed in the social movement. A number ofsocial movements capitalize on existing connections betweeninstitutional and extra-institutional means to achieve their agenda.For instance, the democratic right of freedom of expression allowssocial movements to place paid-for advertisements in mainstream mediaand even hold public awareness programs and workshops. Severalspecial interest groups have authored numerous letters to newspapereditorials and newsrooms on the plastic soup issue (). The KleanFoundation has been making short videos that sensitize the public onthe plastic soup. Furthermore, the close association between socialmovements and political movements has seen institutional support forsocial movements creating further links between extra-institutionaland institutional means (van der Heijden 260). This marginallyexplains why governments have remained very suspicious of socialmovements in the fear that social goals can be used as a front forlarger political goals. In spite of such fears, governments shouldnot interfere with social movements with have become “a permanentcomponent of western democracies” (Porta & Diani, 1).Nonetheless, the social movement seeks to make relevant agenciesaddress critical matters more urgently.
Goalsof the social movement
Thesocial movement is thus directed to push relevant bodies to enactnecessary measures and policies to address the plastic soup problem.Corporations involved in production and use of plastic, governments,and regulatory bodies have a key role to play in addressing themenace caused by plastics. Plastic manufactures put additionalchemical compounds in plastics to improve and even modify them. Someof these chemicals such as polyvinyl alcohol and acrylonitrilebutadiene styrene are harmful to the environment and plastics serveas a key avenue through which these chemicals are introduced into theoceans through surface runoff (Todd, Ong and Chou 1074). The movementthus calls on manufacturers to be more responsible. As for otherinvolved parties, they have to play their part. For instance,International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships(MARPOL) enacted a law in 1988 that prohibited ships from dumpingtheir garbage and waste overboard (Plastic debris 33).
Unfortunately,not all governments and organizations are eager to develop such plansto address the plastic soup issue. This is where social activismcomes in demanding environmental accountability from various actorsvia both institutional and extra-institutional means. Some of theleading global bodies include the Plastic Soup Foundation, KleanFoundation, GreenPeace, Plastic Pollution Coalition, The Dopper,Coastal Care and Plastic Bank among others. These groups have beenindividually involved in organizing rallies and holdingdemonstrations and protests in various countries around the world.
Inline with the functions of social movements, members have sought toembrace the needed change first. Most of these calls to members havecalled on people to recycle plastic bags, contains and even to avoidusing them altogether. By cutting down the usage of plastics andrecycling some of them cut down the probability of these plasticsfinding their way into marine ecosystems. These groups have at firstaddressed the issue of public education by detailing the sources ofplastic as a non-biodegradable material and also creating awarenessof plastics in the ocean.
Issuesaddressed by the movement
Theplastic soup is an environment disaster. However, the magnitude ofthe problem can be hard to digest for the people. The plastic socialmovement has sought to educate its members and the public byhighlighting specific ways through which the plastic menace affectsthe environment and the individual ways that they can get involved inaddressing the problem.
Effecton marine life
Severalstudies have observed that when plastics are ingested by fish, birds,turtles, and other creatures, they pose a danger to their lives. Forother animals, plastics cause entanglement that can lead to death(Plastic debris 21). When these plastics are exposed to otherchemicals or natural elements, they break down into smaller particlesmicroplastics usually measuring less a millimeter in diameter(Johnston). Such microplastics are easily ingested by smallerorganisms in the oceans such as planktivorous fish. A study on asample of this type of fish sampled from the North Pacific CentralGyre (NPCG) found that 35% of the fish sampled had ingested plastic,averaging 2.1 pieces per fish (Boeger, Lattin, Moore & Moore).Given that such creatures are part of a larger food chain means thatthe microplastics are also ingested by any other marine animals thatfeed on them. These plastics, which the marine animals confuse forfood, deny the animals the nutritional value from real food and mayalso get lodged in the digestive system thereby blocking them and mayresult in death (Johnston).
Theplastic soup also poses a threat to coral reefs. Marine scientistsreport that coral reefs including the Great Barrier Reef off thecoast of Australia are home to a quarter of the oceans fish which hasdeclined by over 40% worldwide (“Social Movements”). Such asignificant decrease is not attributable to overfishing and unlawfulfishing practices alone but also to increasing amount of plastics inthe ocean waters that hinder coral growth. The over 8 million tons ofplastics dumped into the oceans annually is consumed by corals thatblock their digestive tracts that can lead to starvation. The PlasticSoup social movement fits into the picture by highlighting the needfor protecting coral reefs. Economic reasons such as tourism andfishing can attract government response more rapidly.
Forlarge pieces of plastic debris floating on ocean waters, thereanother impact in form of alien species and forced migration. TheGreenpeace movement reports that plastics have destroyed naturalhabitats for some marine species in the vast oceans. Thedestabilization of these ecosystems forces these marine organismsconsisting of various species of fish to migrate to new ecologicalsystems that suit them better. The introduction of non-native speciesinto a new habitat, which biologists have named biological invasion,directly impacts the ecological balance. For instance, in the BlackSea, the introduction of the American comb jellyfish resulted in asharp decline in finfish. The jellyfish colonized the finfish thatwas the native species in the waters (Plastic debris 22).Additionally, floating plastic debris provide rafts to migratingspecies taking them over hundreds of miles away from their nativehabitat.
Ona household level, plastics waste is derived from common householditems. They include plastic bottles, plastic containers, some washingdetergents and facial cleansers that contain microplastics that actas scouring agents. When individuals use these products at home, theywash them down the sink into the drainage system. These drainagesystems carry these micro-particles into the sewage treatment plants.However, the modern filtering systems are not sufficient to filterout these minute particles, and as a result they end up in the marineecosystem when treated sewage is released into the ocean waters.Given that human beings are also present in the marine food web, theyget to consume fish that already has ingested plastic and associatedchemicals. In the end, humans end up consuming these plastics.
Themovement is informed by scientific studies that have linked plasticsto several medical conditions. They include several types of cancersand birth defects. The exposure to harmful plastics especially thehigh-density polyethylene (HDPE) used in making bottles, toys, pipingand automotive fuel tanks either through ingestion of to plasticsfumes after burning contributes to these medical conditions. Theplastic soup in the oceans is directly contributing to increasedintake of plastics by marine life and humans. The chemicalcomposition of plastics alone as an organic polymer consisting ofgiant organic molecules means that the disease causing element ofplastics is not visibly identifiable (Johnston). There is a need toidentify further connections between plastics and health.Incidentally, increased consumption, production and application ofplastics has confided with increased cases of cancer, birth defects,diabetes and other medical conditions.
Inaddition, the movement has strongly opposed increased urbanizationand development close to beaches and water sources. Close proximityto these water bodies increases the rate of plastic pollution.Studies in South East Asia specifically in Pulau Seribu Archipelagoto the north and west of Jakarta showed increased rate of plasticpollution along the beaches and ocean shores as a result of increasedhuman settlement in the region (Todd, Ong and Chou 12). Furthermore,increased fishing activities especially in developing nations, wheresome traditional fishing methods are used, have resulted in increasedplastic pollution. This pollution emanates from lost, damaged, andabandoned plastic fishing nets and pieces of equipments. Bysensitizing these fishing communities of the dangers that abandonedplastic fishing tool poses seeks to cut down the use of plastic infishing and also encourage proper disposal of old and damaged plasticfishing nets.
Successof the social movement
Althoughthe social movement does not have the technical capacity to address,the current problem, it is clear the firm has achieved a significantlevel of success notably in highlighting the urgency of the matter.The protests, the rallies, the hashtags, the editorials and videosposted on social media have made a larger fraction of the globalpopulation to be more informed on what the plastic phenomenon is andwhat it entails. Although no current statistics can ascertain suchclaims, the recent increase in attention given to use of plastics bythe media and the public highlight the achievements of the movement.Medic coverage increases knowledge on the issue which makes it easierto transform knowledge into actual actions (van Kerkhoff and Lebel446). It is also important to highlight the dilemma that the worldfaces over the use of plastics. This is because one viablealternative to plastics are trees whose usage may be more detrimentalto the environment. As such, there is a need for acknowledging thatcurrent technology cannot allow a total ban on plastics but rathercall for proper management of plastic waste.
Plasticsoup social movements thus recognize the urgency that lies in theincreased pollution of the world’s ocean by plastics. As a socialmovement, the idea has been to enforce change amongst individuals.They are advised and encouraged not only to recycle plastics but alsoto ensure their proper disposal. Although the contribution of eachmember in curbing the plastic soup problem, the recruitment of asmany members as possible and sensitizing and educating the generalpublic about the plastic soup menace will have a greater overallimpact. In the case of governments, social movements have resulted indemonstrations and protests to demand more political commitment tofight the menace.
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