A brief description of plastic and plastic in the oceans. For more detailed information see The Impacts of Plastic Debris.
Every year over 8 million tons of plastic is entering the oceans from the land – that’s the equivalent of 16 grocery bags filled with plastic going into the ocean along every meter of coastline in the world (or 5 grocery bags per foot of coastline) annually. And more is going into the oceans from ocean activities, such as fishing.
This is harming and killing marine life, either through entanglement, which injures, traps, and often drowns marine animals, or through plastic ingestion when plastic debris is mistaken for good, which causes suffering and often death by injury, poisoning or starvation. And it’s poisoning us as well – a recent study found that seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year with dozens of particles becoming embedded in tissues.
“Ocean plastic comes in every size-class and mimics the food for every single trophic level . . . Every size of organism, every creature in the food web in the ocean, from the tiniest plankton to the largest whales, is consuming plastic.” Captain Charles Moore. For example: 90% of all seabirds and 50-80% of sea turtles have ingested plastic.
Plastic is usually made from oil and different chemicals are added to make it into the many different plastic items that we use. When plastic is in the ocean, the chemicals that were put into it start to come off and go into the surrounding sea water. Many of them are toxic. And, plastics also absorb chemicals and pollutants up to one million times their concentration in the surrounding sea water, making them even more toxic.
Plastic does not biodegrade. Instead, it photodegrades with exposure to sunlight, and breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic polymers. No matter how small the pieces, they are still plastic. The more plastic we produce, use, and discard, the more we have to live with and the more that ends up in the oceans.
Plastic in the oceans is now one of the biggest issues facing our planet. Worldwide, only about 5% of plastic waste is recycled and once it is in the world, it’s going to stay in the world. Only a very small percentage of people have taken actions that are making a difference to the amount going into our oceans.
Humans need to recycle much more and greatly reduce their use of plastic, both for the sake of marine life and also for their own health. Hopefully the Oceans Champions story will inspire many to do so.