5 Reasons Why Oceans are Full of Plastic

Plastic ocean pollution is becoming a global crisis. With garbage patches double the size of Texas swirling in our oceans, there isn’t much hope unless we stop the inflow of plastic.

The question is, where does this plastic come from?

There are numerous reasons why our oceans are filled with plastic, with the top ones being lack of waste managementlitter on the streets and nature, inflow from rivers, through flushes, and placing recyclables in wrong bins.

From releasing toxic gases to strangling turtles, these millions of tonnes of plastic waste are taking a toll on our planet’s biodiversity and climate. In addition to its negative impacts, this waste is here to stay unless we clean it up, because it takes centuries to degrade

In this post, we’ll cover all this and much more about plastic ocean pollution, how it enters the waterways, how much flows in every day, and whether it's in our diet or not.
Let’s get started! 

Which Ocean has the Most Plastic?

The Pacific Ocean, specifically the north side, has the most plastic among all oceans of the world due to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). 

Studies and calculations show that it holds two trillion pieces of plastic, which makes up 33% of the total plastic ocean pollution. This massive plastic accumulation is fuelled by the North Pacific Gyre.

Here are a few facts that you need to know about the GPGP:

Image via Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

How Much Plastic is in the Ocean Right Now?

According to the UNEP’s Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, currently, there are 75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic waste in the oceans. 

Studies showed that in 2016, 9-14 million tonnes of plastic per year were entering the oceans. Scientists believe that we aren’t going to stop our excessive plastic usage any time soon, regardless of continuous efforts, and the yearly number will reach somewhere between 23-37 million tonnes per year by 2040.

Why Plastic in the Ocean is a Problem?

Wherever we look, we find plastic in almost everything ranging from single-use packaging to the microfibres in our clothes. For context, between 2000 and 2010, we produced as much plastic as we had throughout history. A large chunk of this ends in our oceans and severely impacts the largest ecosystem of the world.
Here’s why plastic in the oceans is a problem:

Plastic Kills Marine Life

Plastic is a poison for marine life and is responsible for killing over 100,000 marine mammals and a million seabirds. They become a victim by either consuming it or by getting entangled and strangled. 

Many marine species and sea birds eat plastic particles thinking it's food. Some of them bring it back to their nests and feed their young, which poisons and kills them. 

In addition to plastics, other ocean pollution sources, such as industrial waste leakage, drive various species away from their habitats into areas heavily populated by predators. In other cases, these species become invasive and finish off the natural inhabitants of the newly occupied habitats. 

Ocean Plastic Causes Climate Change

One of the biggest sources of ocean plastic pollution is low-density polyethylene (LDPE) materials. This waste, which generally includes food containers, plastic bags, and plastic bottles, releases methane and ethylene when it turns into microplastics due to exposure to the sunlight. These two gases heavily impact the climate and cause global warming. 

Plastic Takes Centuries to Degrade 

Depending on the type of plastic, it takes somewhere between 20 to 500 years for complete decomposition. Given that most of these products aren’t used for long, some of them even only for minutes, the plastic waste will keep piling up. Studies have shown that we only lose 1% of the total weight of plastic pollution in the oceans every year, which means we need to put a stop to the continuous plastic leakage.

So, what’s the solution?

Should we clean up the oceans? Should we stop the continuous pumping and inflow of plastic waste? Or, should we do both?!

Head over to our comprehensive post on 6 Ways to Clean up the Oceansto find the answer! 

How Much Plastic is Thrown in the Ocean Every day?

Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans. 

Many of you might think that given the current surge of awareness among the masses about the destruction caused by plastics, their usage would have gone down. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. In fact, studies show that plastic use will continue increasing, and by 2050, it’ll be double the current production. 

Industries and governments are promising that plastic usage and pollution will go down and everything is going to be okay, but there’s a long way to go. If all the promises are fulfilled, it is expected the annual plastic addition into the oceans will only go down by 7%

How Much Plastic Do We Eat?

We eat five grams of micro and nano plastics every week through our food according to the Medical University of Vienna. 

This isn’t something new, similar results showed microplastics in our bloodstreams. Utrecht University researchers have found that polystyrene particles can even harm the placenta

5 Ways Plastic Enters the Ocean

From littering on the streets to throwing away used cups on the beaches, we are adding plastic to our waterways bit by bit, which adds up when the same thing happens every second throughout the world. Following are the 5 top ways in which plastic enters the ocean:

Litter on the Streets

Careless waste disposal is one of the top ways in which plastic and other trash enter the drains, then the waterways, and eventually the oceans. 

Take the cigarette butts as an example: one might think they will wither away, or even that they are biodegradable, but they take at least one to five years to decay. During this process, they keep contaminating the water and soil with toxic chemicals like nicotine and heavy metals trapped in them. 

Trillions of cigarette ends are left over after smoking and only an estimated third of them make it into a trash bin. The rest are flung into the environment.

Through Rivers

A major chunk of ocean pollution comes through the rivers. The amount of riverine plastic emissions into the oceans ranges between 0.8 to 2.7 million metric tons per year. There are around a thousand rivers that are responsible for 80% of the overall river plastic leakage into the oceans. The majority of this waste comes from small urban rivers.

A recent Mississippi River Plastic Pollution initiative, which involved cataloging the state of plastic pollution, found that 74% of litter along the river is plastic

Products Flashed into the Waterways

We often flush numerous items down the toilet such as cotton buds, sanitary pads, and wet wipes, without thinking twice about whether they are flushable or not. In addition to this, every single load of laundry that we do releases microplastic in the form of microfibres into the ocean.

In fact, 35% of all the microplastics present in the oceans are because of the laundering of clothes containing synthetic fibers such as polyester. 

Also, many of our cosmetic and skincare products contain microbeads, which are tiny pieces of plastic, around 1 mm in size, that wash into the oceans when we use them. Even though they have been banned in the UK, there’s still a long way to go in the other countries. 

Putting Recyclable Products in the Bin

Approximately 22% of the plastic waste is mismanaged, whereas, only 9% of it is recycled globally, leaving a whomping 91% to be either incinerated, landfilled, or thrown into the waterways, each of which is immensely harmful to the environment in its own way. 

Image via OECD

One of the biggest reasons behind this low occurrence of recycling is the hyper-production of non-recyclable materials, the placement of recyclable products in the wrong bins, or a lack of proper waste management altogether. 

Another thing we need to keep in mind is not to put just everything into the recycling bins because the wrong items could damage the machines, leading to tens of thousands of euros in repairs. Studies show that 30% of the products found in the recycling bins weren’t supposed to be there. 

Litter on the Beaches

The plastic bottles and bags left on the beaches after a sunny day out take quite a toll on our oceans. This waste makes its way into the water and wreaks havoc on marine life. 

Even before entering the ocean, this beach pollution has a negative impact on over 800 wildlife species throughout the world. 

According to the Ocean Conservancy, in their 30 years of gathering waste from different beaches throughout the world, they have collected 300 million pounds and more than 350 types of items.

So what's the way out?

Our oceans are filled with plastics, and we are pumping new waste into it every minute. From littering on the beaches to flushing baby wipes down the drains, there are countless ways in which we are intentionally or unintentionally filling our oceans full of toxic plastic waste. 

Even though everyone’s talking about how we need to reduce plastic usage, there’s still a long way to go: by 2050, it is estimated that plastic production will double. Given the current circumstances, there’s a high probability that a massive chunk of it will end up in the oceans, where it will equally impact aquatic life and humans.

Waste collection in locations without proper waste management in place can and should be managed more efficiently, with better working conditions for waste collectors and with the best possible benefits for the environment.

We believe that the most efficient and financially sustainable way to solve plastic pollution is to build up a global network of waste collection infrastructures in high-impact locations to facilitate the collection and safe processing of non-recyclable plastic. Starting in South (East) Asia which is the gateway for more than 80% of all plastic that enters our oceans. 

Brands that want to take immediate action, can invest through us so we can stop plastic from entering the Oceans. This is the first step towards our goal. A world free from plastic pollution.

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