Water covers our planet at 71 per cent. If trash is not in a landfill, then it is probably in the ocean.
The statistics are shocking: There are billions of pounds (over 51 trillion microplastic particles) swirling around the ocean today, more than one-third of the fish caught for human consumption contain microplastics, and by 2050 scientists predict that there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish by weight.
So where is this plastic coming from?
80 per cent of marine plastic is ground-based.
Littering of single-use plastics (even unintentionally)
We've all gone past street garbage cans that are filled with single-use plastics. I saw a cigarette butt shoot out of a garbage truck 's back. Or worse, someone clearly experienced litter. Now picture this: That cigarette butt (the filters are made of plastic) will tumble through the street and be washed down into a nearby sewer drain or river. Sewer water goes to a wastewater treatment plant where this material is separated and landfilled; however, if we experience heavy rain, our system overflows and it will eventually be taken out into the nearby oceanic abyss.
I was expecting to find lots of everyday plastic items (things like plastic water bottles, bags, and packaging) floating around in the water when I studied ocean plastics at the Atlantic Gyre with 5Gyres in 2015. While we saw that, think of a balloon and a bucket floating in the middle of the Atlantic we found predominantly small pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, smaller than a sesame seed. Things like bits of broken fishing lines, microbeads (those exfoliating items that used to be in face scrubs), and lots and lots of microfibers that fall into the water while synthetic clothing is washed. And yes, garments made from recycled bottles of plastic water, ocean waste and other "upcycled" waste sources often shed small pieces of plastic.
The ocean is now filled with a smog of microscopic plastic particles which pose one of today's biggest threats to our environment.
Why is plastic bad for the oceans?
· Impacts the marine environment
More than 1,200 animals are currently endangered by ingestion or entanglement of plastic from the oceans. Marine wildlife, such as fish, seabirds, whales, and tortoises, often mistake plastic for food — which may result in internal tears, choking, or starvation from having a plastic-filled belly. It is estimated that plastic will be eaten by 99 per cent of seabirds by 2050. Animals may also get caught or lacerated from things like fishing lines, jagged plastic pieces, and plastic bags — which can reduce their swimming ability, lead to infections, cause injury, and even suffocation. For less and less marine species, whole habitats are at risk, which may lead to a rise in dead zones in the oceans
· Climate change affects
The effect of ocean plastics on the environment in many ways:
1. Among the animals affected by microscopic plastic ingestion are plankton, which is a significant source of food for many marine organisms and plays a key role in the absorption and sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in deep ocean carbon sinks. The loss of populations of plankton ensures that less pollution is extracted from our atmosphere and water, which raises global temperatures and raises ocean acidification
2. As plastic breaks down in the oceans (from heat and sunlight), methane and ethylene (aka two of the most powerful greenhouse gases) are released. This creates an alarming feedback loop: As the planet continues to warm, more plastic breaks down causing the release of more methane and ethylene, which then increases the rate of warming, climate change, and continues the cycle again.
3. Since most plastics are made from petroleum (oil), the more plastic we manufacture, the more fossil fuels we use. Drilling for these fossil fuels degrades the land, contaminates water and emits harmful pollutants from the air. So, the combustion of fossil fuels would raise global temperatures, produce more air pollution so acidify the oceans further.
· Impacts on Human health and the food chain
Sea life isn't the only animal affected — human beings are now reaping the adverse effects.
If plastic remains in seawater for a prolonged period of time, chemical chemicals build up on the surface. Indeed, a single plastic microbead may be 1 million times more toxic than the surrounding water. When marine organisms ingest plastic, they ingest all of the toxins on it as well. Then these toxins bioaccumulate in the food chain, as bigger fish eat smaller plastic-eaten fish. And this toxin-rich seafood finally finds its way to our plate
Some of the chemicals used in plastic processing are also considered to be carcinogens and have been associated with endocrine disruption which can cause human developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune disorders.
What's the alternative, then?
· Avoiding single-use plastics: Without my trustee sidekicks, I rarely leave the house – including my reusable tote bag, reusable straw, and a reusable mug or water bottle. I don't necessarily end up using them, but when I'm on the go, bringing them with me helps me stop single-use plastics.
· Take action against microplastics: I avoid buying synthetic clothing because when we wash our clothes, they shed microfibers (aka plastic lint) into our waterways. If you weren't conscious, they 're one of the biggest challenges the ocean faces! I 'm searching for second-hand clothes made of natural fabrics such as silk, bamboo, hemp and organic cotton, instead. You can wash them in a bag for the synthetic textiles you may already own, which helps to capture any fibres that break off in the wash and then you can properly dispose of them.
· Advocate ending our dependency on fossil fuels: Rising crisis is plastic production. In the next decade, the fossil fuel industry aims to increase plastic usage by 40 per cent, which means more harmful air and oceans. We need urgent political action to tackle the problem. Help legislators who are willing to take bold action against oil companies and big business, and who support strict protections and policies for the environment.