Since the ocean is downstream, much of the plastic trash generated on land ends up there. ” It has been estimated that 6.4 million tons of debris end up in the world’s oceans every year and that some 60 to 80 percent of that debris, or 3.8 to 5 million tons, is improperly discarded plastic litter “. Encyclopedia Brittanica.
How Much Trash?
Upwards of 9 million tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year (at the going rate, there will be more plastic in the water than fish by 2050)
It has been estimated that around 80% of marine debris is from land-based sources and the remaining 20% is from ocean based sources. Greenpeace Report.
According to Stemming the Tide, a study released by the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, 60 percent of plastic pollution in the ocean comes from the following countries;
- China dumps an estimated 1.32 to 3.53 million tons of plastic which accounts for 30 percent of all of the plastic debris
- Indonesia comes second with 0.48 and 1.29 million tons of plastic marine waste
- Philippines in third place followed by Vietnam and then Sri Lanka.
- You can read a good summary of this report here.
Trash Vortexes Or The 5 Gyres
Dotted around the world are 5 great trash vortexes. They are right out there in the middle of the sea and they are huge. Vast expanses of debris held in place by swirling underwater currents. Read more
Everyday tons of trash gets washed ashore. Many beaches look more like rubbish dumps than a place to go paddling which impacts on tourism and local businesses. Local authorities, industry and coastal communities spend approximately £14 million a year to clean up beach litter in England and Wales alone (Environment Agency, 2004).
Dirty Sea Bed
And that is the plastic that is washed up. In fact around 70 percent of discarded plastic sinks to the bottom. In the North Sea alone, Dutch scientists have found around 600,000 tonnes of plastic smothering the sea bed and the bottom feeders who live there.
Poisoned Sea Creatures
It is affects marine life in other ways. Here’s a troubling statistic “One-third of fish caught off the south-west coast of England have traces of plastic contamination from sources including sanitary products and carrier bags”. You can read more in the Plymouth University study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Researchers warn that ” garbage can injure creatures like sea sponges and impair their ability to breathe and absorb food. Moreover, chemicals in plastic can have toxic effects and alter gas exchange on the seafloor.” (live science)
Of course plastic breaks, tears and cracks. It weathers and sunlight makes it brittle, It falls apart – it degrades – but only into smaller pieces of plastic.
This degrading process can go on indefinitely it seems. Particles of plastic of 20 microns in diameter (a width thinner than a human hair) have been found in the oceans and are being found in increasing amounts. As reported by Dr Richard Thompson at the University of Plymouth is leading research into what happens when plastic breaks down in seawater and what effect it is having on the marine environment.
Other tiny bits of plastic come from synthetic clothes which shed fibres when being washed. And cosmetics!
Exfoliating scrubs can contain tiny plastic beads which are washed off and washed out to sea,
These tiny pieces of plastics are called micro plastic. They are being eaten by bottom feeders and are now entering the food chain.
Toxic plastic pellets
Plastic particles in the sea also attract persistent organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs are a small set of toxic chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods and accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. Plastics have been shown to concentrate pollutants up to a million times their level in the surrounding seawater and then deliver them to the species that ingest them (Encyclopedia Brittanica). Bottom feeders eat the plastic pellets and so the POPs enter the food chain.
Then there are the chemicals used to make plastic. Many of these are toxic and can leach out. Research is showing that chemicals absorbed by the plastic are transferred to the fish.
Islands in the stream
Floating plastic can carry animals and vegetation way beyond their natural habitat potentially leading to the introduction of invasive species into vulnerable habitats.
People have been dumping rubbish in the sea for centuries. What has changed is the nature of the rubbish. Using a non-biodegradable product with a lifespan of centuries to make disposable items is crazy. Let’s stop using plastic to make everlasting litter. And rather then wait for governments to act or the clean up bill get even bigger I invite you to join me in a plastic boycott. You can find loads of plastic free alternatives listed here on my blog.
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