Helping Hawaii’s Earth: Marine Debris taking a toll on Hawaii as well as the health and minds of humans

Many people see plastic from different perspectives. Some of us may see it as a threat to our world or some of use may see it as something that we need in our lives. There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but I do feel like people need to understand both perspectives.  Those who think plastic shouldn’t even be allowed in our environment may change their mind due to what they learn from the other perspective and vice versa. All individuals do things in life according to what they know and so education is greatly important and valued because this changes people’s minds and values which takes a huge toll on the way people consume plastic. People’s attitudes on plastic relies on their knowledge which then affects the way people consume plastic.   

Many of us are probably aware of the plastic pollution problem, also known as marine debris, but what many of us are unaware of is the health effect is has on humans. In Hawaii specifically, this is one of the state’s top 5 environmental issues. Marine debris is known to be any man-made, solid material that enters our ocean from littering or indirectly via rivers, streams and storm drains. Everyday items such as discarded soda cans, cigarette butts, or plastic bags that end up in the ocean is what causes Marine Debris. Other items such as, fishing nets, lines, pots, and traps can get caught on rocky or coral reefs, or float on the ocean surface. Even if it’s an unintentional loss or misplacement, it’s still in our ocean causing problems. This potentially harms and threatens not only the marine life, but also human life as well. Nearly 80 percent of marine debris originates from land-based sources. According to article publisher Seltenrich, “A December 2014 study derived from six years of research by the 5 Gyres Institute estimated that 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing some 269,000 tons are floating on the surface of the sea” (Seltenrich, 2015). Most of this lost “trash” does not decompose in seawater and can remain in the marine environment for many years, trapping and even killing the sea life. I agree with Seltenrich’s definition/ concept/ claim that marine debris is has become a significant environmental concern for governments, scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the public worldwide because he provides the results of a study that was done. Plastic contains lots of toxins and chemicals that can also come from the outside environment. 

Because of this rapidly growing issue, Hawaii has made a plastic bag “ban” that went into effect on July 1, 2018. This law basically allowed grocery stores and restaurants to have reusable bags, compostable plastic bags, or recyclable brown paper bags. Stores were required to charge customers 15 cents per bag if they didn’t bring their own reusable bags. By having this ban of the “bad” plastic bags, did this really decrease the amount of plastic pollution in Hawaii from last year till now? I think it may have decreased a little, but not enough (yet) to see huge results. This ban has only been in effect for almost a year so of course it will take time before we will be able to see changes. Aside from this law, a couple surf shops in Hawaii are working to creating some type of filter for the ocean. It’s basically something that collects trash from the ocean, and it could be beneficial, but it is still being worked on. We need to come up with more ways that could be effective for this environmental issue. Ultimately, what’s at stake here is that chemicals from plastic pollution (marine debris) are being released and causing health defects and risks in humans. By educating those about both sides of the story, this will open minds a little more and people are able to compare the two sides. Comparing and contrasting allows people to have more constructive criticism on what they believe it said to be true and this could alter their decision. Another thing to consider isn’t always what other ways can we fix this issue, but why isn’t the problem being fixed. This could be because the attitudes and mindset of the residents. Some actions are being taken to try and reduce the amount of plastic pollution we have on our beaches, but it’s no enough.  

Packaging from store businesses can influence buying behavior. Plastic can be used with paper and cardboard in packaging, but the plastic will outlast the paper in a trash fill about a hundred times. Packaging experts will say that both plastic and paper have advantages and disadvantages, like anything else in life. Paper takes more energy to produce than plastic, but traditional plastic from petroleum doesn’t biodegrade. The promise of biopolymer plastic bags is not quite here, but this may lead to plastic bags that people can feel better about. This may also lead to biodegradable packaging, but consumers can still be confused about how to make buying decisions due to the complexity of understanding the trade-offs between plastic, paper and other options. It is likely the government and residents will continue to find fault with plastic as disposables no matter how much they can’t live without their durable plastic products. Marketers of plastics will still need to honestly assess each use of plastic, and truthfully communicate the reasons for the decision to use the material. Transparent, logical thinking about what plastic is used for, is the best way forward for all of us in the industry. The usage of plastic in businesses influence consumers’ minds to think about plastic as either beneficial or not. Plastic is used and manufactured through many businesses.  

The plastic industry is stuck with people having this bi-polar consumer attitude about the plastic products they produce. We may think we can live without plastic, but in reality, no one in this day and age can really live without plastic products. Products can be broken into two categories, durable vs. disposable. In fact, the anti-plastic bag and disposable plastic attitude is clearly very negative, while few of these same Web sites even bring up durable plastics as an issue. “The concern about shopping bags started all the way back in 1974 in some communities and it was thought that paper bags were killing all the trees. But a switch to plastic bags in that decade became another cause for the landfill-aware consumer” (Steiner, 2018). The inference on recycling is that it can be an asset, after the initial disposal of plastic or paper. Later studies focus on plastic bags as an extremely bad environmental pollutant because it did not deteriorate quickly enough and was hurting fish, animals, and the environment. If people did not buy plastic products, they would not be produced for long. In other words, we are the reason why plastic is continuously produced till this day, and we are also the ones leaving plastic products where they’re not supposed to be. The issues with plastic appear not to be about usage but about disposal and reuse. This isn’t the only issue people have with plastic, but the ongoing issue continues to a beach in Hawaii that’s referenced to a Garbage Patch. Plastic shopping bags were always an issue, but the reasoning evolved over time. Before, they used to think plastic bags were killing trees, and not plastic bags are known to “killing”/ harming our environment.  

On the Big Island’s southeastern side, there’s a beach called Kamilo Point. Many residents say that it looks like a wasteland, despite its tide pools and pockets of lava rock. The ocean’s currents and powerful trade winds carry and bring up to the shore, thousands of pounds of man-made trash on this beach each year. This beach has become known as one of the dirtiest beaches in the world and it’s so bad that some people call it the Plastic Beach. Herreria, a marine thoerist observes, “People have found hair brushes, cigarette lighters, shards of plastic, water bottles, fishing net, straws, broken detergent bottles and discarded trash with labels in various languages, including Japanese and Russian” (Carla Herreria, 2017). According to this article, a few months later, the Hawaii Wildlife Fund (HWF) collected and took away 15,000 pounds of trash, nylon nets and fishing line from Kamilo Beach. The beach was obviously way cleaner afterward, but it’s unclear how long the beach stays like that. The Big Island’s southeastern shore (Kamilo Point beach) is relatively close to the eastern Pacific garbage patch, which is the main reason why this beach gets so much trash and plastic surrounding it. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is basically the massive convergence of marine litter. The easternmost concentration of trash is midway between the California coast and the eastern shores of Hawaii. “These so-called patches of trash are a result of oceanic and atmospheric pressures that push free-floating items in the ocean ― sea life, pollution, tiny pieces of plastic ― into one general area” (Carla Herreria, 2017). However, it does not converge into a floating island of trash, like some people have come to believe. Instead, it’s more like a cloud of pollution, and much of it is made up of particles called microplastics, or tiny chunks of plastic smaller than a quarter inch, according to Carey Morishige, formerly of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program. “Some of these plastic pieces are microbeads from face wash products, or plastic fibers from clothing made of synthetic materials; but others were shed from large items that the ocean battered and broke up over time” (Carey Morishige, 2017). Debris from the trash patch in the Pacific often gets deposited across the Hawaiian archipelago. But the Big Island sees the worst of it.  

Native Hawaiians once used the beach to collect large driftwood, which traveled to Kamilo from the American Pacific Northwest, to make dugout canoes. Of course, this has transformed into old toothbrushes, shards of plastic and mounds of rope and fishing lines piling up on the shore instead. Trash has accumulated on Kamilo’s beaches as early as the mid 1980s. It’s not clear if beach cleanups are enough to keep Kamilo Beach free from the trash that winds up on its shores, but organizations are trying to be innovative with the debris. “Last week, the Hawaii Wildlife Fund sent discarded nylon fishing nets found at Kamilo to the island of Oahu to be converted into energy as part of NOAA’s Net-to-Energy program. The nets will be cut into smaller pieces and burned as fuel at a power plant in Kapolei (Oahu)”, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. Though marine debris is greatly affecting the marine life, it is also slowly affecting the residents as well. Many of us are unaware of this. The Garbage Patch in Hawaii is located on the Big Island at the Kamilo Point Beach. Talking about the Garbage Patch is important to the thesis because it adds on information and supports the thesis. This is just an example of one of the places that holds an insane amount of plastic pollution.  

Many of us know that plastic pollution is bad but what we don’t really know is why. In fact, not only do the toxins in plastic affect the ocean, but acting like sponges, they soak up other toxins from outside sources before entering the ocean. As these chemicals are ingested by animals in the ocean, this is not good for humans. We as humans ingest contaminated fish and mammals. There are different types of ways that plastic is dangerous for humans. Direct toxicity from plastics comes from lead, cadmium, and mercury. These toxins have also been found in many fish in the ocean, which is very dangerous for humans. Journalist Andrews states, “Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) contained in some plastics, is a toxic carcinogen” (Andrews, 2012). Other toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues. “BPA is used in many things including plastic bottles and food packaging materials” (Andrews, 2012). Over time the polymer chains of BPA will break down and can enter the human body in many ways from drinking contaminated water to eating a fish that is exposed to the broken-down toxins. Specifically, BPA is a known chemical that interferes with human hormonal function. 

How can the plastics be harmful to humans? Like I mentioned before, due to the plastics breaking up from the sunlight and chemicals are then released, just by breathing the air can allow the chemicals to get into our bodies. Another way would be from microplastic particles. This is what passes through the human body without us even knowing, causing health issues. But how? Simply by the seafoods we eat. According to author and article publisher Tibbetts, “They can pass through the placenta and the blood-brain barrier and can be taken up in the gastro intestinal tract and lungs, potential sites where harm can occur,” (Tibbetts, 2015) “. There is still a lot to discover about microplastics from the toxicity and drug delivery technologies that apply to these microplastics. What we do know is that the “path” from plastic pollution to chemical exposure through seafood and through the human body is a long one. Researchers are still trying to get information, but they say it’s hard because figuratively and often literally, trying to trace all the individual steps in that theoretical journey is not the same as identifying human health effects. The commonly held view is “the path from plastic pollution to chemical exposure through seafood is a long one, figuratively and often literally, and tracing all the individual steps in that theoretical journey is not the same as identifying human health effects.” Actual exposures to the plastic chemicals, which are determined by innumerable variables along the way, including seafood consumption, still need to be quantified. Then these levels must be evaluated within broader contexts of consumer plastic use and environmental pollutant levels. Pollutant levels are increasing due to plastic pollution also increasing. We need to evaluate the environments pollutant levels because this influences human health. Plastics are harmful to humans because it’s not something we think about regularly or even automatically 

Plastics in consumer products have become subject to increasing conversations regarding their potential effects on human health. “Bisphenol A (BPA),2 a component of poly carbonate plastics and suspected endocrine disruptor, is one of the most widely known chemicals of interest” (Seltenrich, 2015). Plastic isn’t only made up of BPA. It is only one of many other monomers, plasticizers, flame retardants, antimicrobials, and other chemicals used in plastics manufacturing that can migrate into the environment. What makes plastic severely dangerous for not only marine life, but also humans? Plastics that reach the ocean will gradually break down into ever-smaller pieces due to sunlight exposure, oxidation, and the physical action of waves, currents, and grazing by fish and birds. These so-called microplastics are variably defined in the scientific literature and popular press as “smaller than 1 or 5 mm in diameter”.  “The 5 Gyres authors found microplastics almost everywhere they sampled, from near-shore environments to the open ocean, in varying concentrations, and they estimated that particles 4.75 mm or smaller–about the size of a lentil–made up roughly 90% of the total plastic pieces they collected” (Seltenrich, 2015). They are understood to be the most abundant type of plastic in the ocean. Although I agree with Seltenrich up to a point, their assumption that it’s very difficult to disentangle pollutant exposures and bioaccumulation via plastic versus food and environmental sources, it is problematic for me, the fact that no research has yet been done about the bioaccumulation of absorbed pollutants in the environment. Exploring the hazardous issues about marine debris in Hawaii and ultimately arguing that the chemicals in plastic can cause medical issues in humans is important and everyone should be aware of this issue. With more people educated about their own health, we can fix the issue with decreasing the amount of litter people drop on our beaches. Marine debris in Hawaii affects the fish that we eat.  

As far as protecting yourself from contamination, it is probably best not to have a diet that consists mainly of fish, since most is probably contaminated. However, one of the most effective things we could all do as members of this fragile ecosystem is to be responsible for our trash. When we have the opportunity, we should try to avoid buying products packaged in plastic. We should always recycle plastic when we do use it. At the store, request a paper bag instead of plastic, or bring your own. Use a reusable water bottle, and of course don’t litter. Our tendency as humans to be irresponsible about cleaning up after ourselves is about to get us in trouble. We risk losing many species in the ocean as well as negatively affecting ourselves. The average person produces half a pound of plastic waste every day. Plastic is made up of many different chemicals that gives off toxic fumes. This is what’s most concerning about plastic. Is there a way to create plastic in an eco-friendlier way so that these toxic chemicals aren’t harming human health as well as marine life? This would be a more effective way than trying to ban plastics altogether. We could possibly also have these plastics be able to decompose somehow so that it isn’t considered as “liter”. I’ve read articles about marine companies building plastic traps which are basically huge generators that pick up the trash from the oceans and decreases the amount of plastic that come up on our shores. In Hawaii, because we’re in the middle of the ocean, not connected to any other states, we get trash that pull up on our shores from outside countries and states due to the water current. This means, not all plastic isn’t all necessarily from Hawaii residents but as residents in Hawaii, we can figure out ways to decrease the amount of marine debris. Marine debris should be decreased because the chemicals from plastic can affect human health. 

As far as plastic entering the ocean, about 20% of the trash comes from ships and platforms that are offshore. The rest sources from litter being blown into the sea, picked up by tides on the beach, or intentional garbage dumping. The worst part is, these plastics don’t biodegrade, so they break up into tiny pieces that are consumed by fish and sea mammals. Plastic is killing more than 100,000 sea turtles and birds a year from ingestion and entanglement. To learn more visit Project Green Bag. Chemicals in plastics are released into the water as well as the atmosphere. Fish easily become contaminated from the chemicals in the water. This is a direct link of how plastic chemicals enter the food chain. Different plastics spread throughout the ocean. As Styrofoam breaks into smaller parts, polystyrene components in it sink lower in the ocean, so that the pollutant spreads throughout the sea column. I think part of the problem is that we don’t recognize how this issue starts with the individual. There are obviously life style changes we can make to solve this problem. We just have to be willing to accept this issue and look past our denial. The government also needs to make regulations on plastics if anything is going to change. Surprisingly, “there is little to no information on governmental websites about pollution in the oceans” (Andrews, 2012). Some say the government/ other people are afraid to address the problem, due to it possibly being a costly fix. However there have been some treaties formed to minimize the amount of trash entering the oceans. This is still not enough. We should all be involved because it is everyone’s responsibility to take this issue upon themselves. We need to make some changes before it is too late and we kill off all the oceanic life, or even our own. Because plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems Hawaii faces, we all need to figure out how we can better our lifestyles to better the problem as a whole. Plastic comes from all over and we don’t even notice it. Sometimes we may think an item doesn’t contain plastic, but we could be wrong. 

Since plastic pollution is one of the top environmental issues Hawaii faces, that it has to somehow affect us negatively and not just our marine life/ earth. The solution is not to encourage more people to come to Kamilo to clean up but will come with individuals reducing our dependence to plastics, especially single-use items that we can do without. “With an estimated 8 million metric tons of discarded plastics turning up in the ocean every year, humans are the only ones who can stop it from pouring into the sea” (Lamson, 2017). Ultimately, marine debris and plastic pollution are both people problems. “It was created by people and can be solved by people.” I want the readers to understand that plastic pollution is a serious topic that shouldn’t just pass through our minds whenever the topic is brought up, which is hardly ever at least from my experience. To inform readers about the importance of this, telling them that this can affect our lives will have people look at this issue differently. Many people ignore things in life if it doesn’t relate or affect them, but by telling them that this issue will affect you will get more people’s attention. They’ll hopefully also take this issue more seriously because they’re more educated on the issue. The main point of this paper is just to show/ tell people that we as humans are affected from this plastic pollution on a daily basis whether we believe it or not. 

Annotated Bibliography (APA) 

Herreria, C. (2017, May 12). The Islands of Hawaii Hold One of The Dirtiest Places in The World. Retrieved from 

This article is a popular source about the Garbage Patch in Hawaii. This source gave me a whole other mind set on how bad this issue really is. I was uneducated before about this Garbage Patch located on the Big Island, while being from Oahu. The author’s claim is that the undeveloped coastlines on the Hawaiian Islands are being traded in for their natural beauty. The main location this article targets was Kamilo Beach Point on the Big Island. It is stated that “the ocean’s currents and powerful trade winds deposit thousands of pounds of man-made trash on this beach each year. One look, and it’s no wonder how this became known as one of the dirtiest beaches in the world. Some call it Plastic Beach“. I would incorporate this quote as well as other parts of the article because it gives the readers more insight on how we can change our mindset to help make this earth a bit cleaner. This article would fit my paper more on the persuasive side on trying to get people to be aware of this issue and to want to do something about it. 

Marine Debris. (2019, January). Thank You Ocean. Retrieved from 

This article is a popular source strictly about marine debris and what it is. It talks about how marine debris occurred in different places such as tsunami’s in Japan, where does the debris come from, and all the hazardous outcomes and issues that could occur. The authors claim about this passage is to help decrease the amount of marine debris and how exactly you can do so. This goes along with my whole topic of my paper. I could incorporate this source into the section in my paper about ways to help with the amount of debris in Hawaii or wherever you are. The source also mentions that the “Honolulu Strategy aims to work towards a results-oriented framework of action with the overarching goal to reduce impacts of marine debris over the next 10 years. This goal will be achieved through the collective action of committed stakeholders at global, regional, country, local, and individual levels.” This part of information relates to the location of my paper and I could use the following information as backup evidence. This article would fit my paper rhetorically rather than persuasively because I’m not necessarily trying to persuade anyone, but to give people the straight up facts and knowledge that marine debris can have on our health.  

Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health. (2018, August 03). Retrieved from 

This article is also adding onto the first source cited about the garbage patch. The only difference is that this article isn’t focusing on Hawaii, but the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that is located in the central North Pacific Ocean and is larger than the state of Texas. Although this source has nothing to do with Hawaii and that’s where I’m focusing on for this paper, I thought it would be beneficial for readers to see that this isn’t only a problem in Hawaii, but it’s worse other places where you’re probably going to be affected. This article also has some information about how we can keep our bodies decontaminated from the chemicals from plastic which is also going to be incorporated into my essay. Some background information about these garbage patches that this article stated was “the patches are defined as containing a higher amount of plastic as compared to surrounding oceans. To date, five patches in total have been discovered. Plastics are transported and converge in the ocean where currents meet. This means that huge plastic islands are made as a result”. This article would fit my paper rhetorically as well as persuasively because it does give me lots of knowledge, but at the same time, the author(s) are trying to persuade the readers to try and think of way so that we all can stay healthy together. They’re trying to also persuade you to listen to their helpful tips on how to stay decontaminated as best as possible.  

Seltenrich, N. (2015). New Link in the Food Chain? Environmental Health Perspectives123(2), A34–A41. 

This article was about the main issue with marine debris in the world. Basically, marine debris is linked to plastic pollution and this is the #1 concern. Plastic is very harmful for our environment, our marine life, wildlife, and even humans. Many of us aren’t really educated about plastic, but there are chemicals in plastic that can affect our health. The author of this article is N. Seltenrich and he holds an independent journal called “Environmental Health Perspectives”. The authors argument is that the amount of plastics that are pulling up on shores are getting to be a ridiculous amount and this means, we are all at a dangerous risk of getting health issues. He goes over a study that happened in 2014 and found that 269,000 tons of plastic was floating on the surface of the sea. My argument is talking about the chemicals in plastic and the health risks it has on humans, specifically in Hawaii. This passage tells me the specific chemicals in plastic and more in-depth information about how plastics can give off these chemicals in the first place. With, this article supports my argument. I plan to take the specific names of the chemicals from the passage and incorporate it as supporting evidence for my paper. Again, this article would fit my paper rhetorically rather than persuasively because I’m trying to give people the straight up facts and knowledge that marine debris can have on our health.  

Supportrdf, A. A. (2017, February 22). Consumer Attitudes About Plastics. Retrieved from 

This article talked about people attitudes towards plastic and why it is the way it is. As we may or may not know, plastic pollution has a lot to deal with people’s attitudes because attitudes portray people’s actions most of the time. We as humans are the ones creating this plastic mess and it’s because our mindsets aren’t always the best when we perceive plastic. The fact that the anti-plastic bag and disposable plastic attitude is clearly very negative, few of these same Web sites even bring up durable plastics as an issue. This article states that “lots of scholarly studies have been done on plastic bags, packaging and throw-away containers like water bottles, but little is found on durable plastic products intended for years of service. The concern about shopping bags started all the way back in 1974 for some communities”. This article supports my argument as well because it adds to why plastic pollution is really getting out of control. This article would fit my essay more persuasively because there’s a lot of information talking about attitudes and it’s trying to get you to think about if you are one of them who contributes to this environmental crisis or not. By making people think about themselves in this way could really open up doors for us as individuals to bettering ourselves and that leads to us as a better whole.  

TIBBETTS, J. H. (2015). Plastics on the Half Shell. BioScience65(8), 836. 
Persistent link to this record (Permalink): 

This article was about chemicals from the plastic entering our seafood and then traveling through our bodies. This is one way the chemicals can get into our body and cause harmful health issues. The author’s thesis is basically that we should stop polluting the oceans because it gets into our seafood that we eat. The author is John Tibbetts and he has a journal about “Plastics on the Half Shell”. In this article, he talks about a study that was done in 2014 and it showed a toxicology report about the amount of toxins in the environment. This article supports my argument as well because it adds to a way on how the chemicals and toxins can get into our body. My argument is all about plastics harming our health and this article goes into depth on a way this could happen. 

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