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Ocean Plastic Pollution

Sea Turtle eating plastic bag

The Facts About Ocean Plastic Pollution

  • 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic have been made and 75% is now plastic waste.
  • Only 9% of plastic has been recycled. Most plastic waste ends up in landfills and the environment.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic waste pollute the oceans each year.
  • Nearly 90% of seabirds and sea turtles have plastic in their bodies because they mistake floating plastic for food.
  • Plastic has a negative impact on 700 species in the ocean.
  • It is predicted that plastic production and consumption may double in ten years.

Causes of Ocean Plastic Pollution

Nurdles are tiny plastic balls that are a large source of ocean plastics. They are the raw material used to make other plastic products. Nurdles are often shipped long distances overseas to reach manufacturing facilities. The problem is, many ships lose shipments overboard due to inclement weather or mishandling. The damage caused by these tiny beads goes further than just adding more plastic to the oceans. 

Most ocean plastics enter through waterways, like rivers, streams, and urban drainage systems. Many areas near large rivers, such as the Yangtze and Nile rivers, lack adequate waste disposal and recycling facilities. This leads to trash having no where else to go, so it ends up in the river where it flows out of sight and out of mind - but never disappears. 

Single-use plastics have become so commonplace, that most do not think about the consequence of buying a bottle of water or drinking from a straw. Unfortunately, this has led to a crisis in the ocean. In 2016, 480 billion plastic bottles were sold, less than half were sent to recycling, and only 7% were actually recycled. The rest end up in landfills or washed downstream into the oceans. 

Beach Trash

Impacts of Ocean Plastic Pollution

Nurdles attract toxins that have been washed into the sea by industries and farming, such as DDT and PCBs. When animals mistake these nurdles for food, they are doing more than just eating plastic, they are ingesting harmful toxins. Many of these animals do not die immediately and end up entering the food chain, and are often consumed by humans. 

Plastic in the ocean poses a serious threat to wildlife. Animals often mistake plastics for food. When this happens, their digestive systems cannot process it. The ingested plastic can block nutrients from being absorbed or create blockages, both of which often lead to malnourishment and death. Many species of sea birds and sea turtles are endangered, in part due to plastic in the oceans. Plastic ingestion kills approximately 100,000 marine mammals and millions of birds and fish each year. 

Even though plastic “breaks down” it never really goes away. Exposure to sunlight can cause it to break into smaller and smaller pieces, but these microplastics make it more difficult to remove them from the environment. Broken down plastic can create a sludge in the water that mixes with plankton and is also consumed by filter feeders like anchovies, manta rays, and whales. 

Sea Bird filled with plastic

Solutions to Ocean Plastic Pollution

Become a smart consumer. When you are shopping, think about the packaging you are paying for that will just be thrown away. When possible, choose to buy in bulk and choose unpackaged produce. Buy second-hand items to avoid unnecessary plastic packages, especially for things that may be thrown out in the near future, like toys.

Invest in reusable versions of everyday products, like water bottles, coffee cups, straws, utensils, lunch baggies, grocery bags, produce bags, and bulk containers.

Learn what can and cannot be recycled at your local waste management facility. Reduce your consumption of products that cannot be recycled, reuse the plastics you already have, and recycle plastics whenever possible. Keep in mind, there are companies, such as Terracycle, that allow you to mail in items that are difficult to recycle. 

Plastic pollution in the oceans is caused by humans, and therefore can be solved by humans. Do your part as an inhabitant of planet Earth. Make an effort to minimize your plastic footprint and spread the word to others about how they can help too.