OUR PLASTIC OCEANS
Since the 1950’s, it has been estimated that humans have made over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, and huge amounts of that has ended up as litter or in landfill and oceans. To put that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic into perspective, if all of that plastic was made of Lego bricks the bricks would cover the entire surface of the earth 16 times. All of that plastic combined is 18x heavier than the human population; it would also weigh around 60 million blue whales or 138 million army tanks.
The accumulation of plastic in the ocean has creates ‘soups’ of plastic in the ocean that will take hundreds of years to break down and kill millions of fish and seabirds every year. These ‘soups’ grow by 8 football fields every second.
The problem with plastic is that most of it – over 50% – is used just once before being thrown away. This is called single-use plastic, as obviously it is only used once. This includes things like bags, straws, bottles and coffee cups, and most of these plastics are unnecessary and could have been avoided in the first place.
The scale of the plastic epidemic is only just being realised – over half of that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic that has been made since the 1950’s has been made in just the last 13 years! To put our use of plastic into perspective, here are some shocking plastic facts:
- In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments—like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles—are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day!
- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
- We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
- The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
- Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.
- The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production (bioplastics are not a good solution as they require food source crops).
- It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
- Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. 80 percent of pollution enters the ocean from the land.
- Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
- One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
- 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.
- Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).
- Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
Here are some figures of what all that plastic is, and how you can avoid it:
According to the Container Recycling Institute, 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2014, or 315 bottles per person. 57% of those units were plastic water bottles: 57.3 billion sold in 2014. This is up from 3.8 billion plastic water bottles sold in 1996, the earliest year for available data. The process of producing bottled water requires around 6 times as much water per bottle as there is in the container so this method is also extremely wasteful and unsustainable.
Worldwide, up to 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year. Many of these end up in the ocean where they are mistaken by turtles as being jellyfish and swallowed, choking the turtle. The easy and obvious way to avoid this unnecessary single-use plastic, which on average is used for just 15 minutes before being discarded, is to carry your own bags when you do things like shopping. This reduces the demand for bags, and results in fewer bags entering the ocean. This can also save you money as well as saving the environment. Many shops offer large, strong plastic bags that are designed to be reused over and over again, you can also get natural bags made from grasses and hemp from various shops and the internet, these can also last for a long time and when you discard them, they decompose into the soil instead of poisoning it like plastic. Making simple switches like this, when multiplied by millions of people, can make a real difference.
In America alone, over 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used and thrown away each year. If you have a baby use reusable cloth diapers instead of disposables as this will save a lot of money for you as well as being a lot better for the environment.
In America, over 2 billion disposable razors are used each year, and the easy way to avoid this is to buy a proper, reusable razor from a reliable brand. This will save you a lot of money over time as well as helping reduce your use of plastic.
Worldwide, over 100,000 tons of chewing gum is discarded each year, the gum is made of synthetic rubber, which is a plastic. Chewing gum is completely unnecessary and many brands have been linked to causing cancer, so it is probably better for your health if you avoid gum as well.
Another section makes up a small part in terms of the weight of all ocean plastic but one of the most damaging parts of it due to its size and ability to absorb toxins, are microbeads. Trillions of microbeads are leaked into the ocean each year. These are tiny beads that are ingested by marine animals and fish and arguably cause even more damage than the larger plastics like bottles. To give an idea of the scale of microbeads, a tube of facewash can contain over 300,000 microbeads. Every single DAY, 808 TRILLION microbeads are washed down American drains alone. Once in the ocean, these microplastics they can absorb and emit toxic pollutants at different parts of the food chain. Microbeads are used to bulk out the cosmetic (i.e shampoo) and save the company money, at the expense of oceans and millions of fish and marine animals. You can avoid these terrible beads, which most people don’t even know exist, by buying cosmetics from ‘natural’ companies as these are more likely to not use microbeads. You can download the Beat The Microbead app from your app store and scan your product to see if it contains microbeads. In the future I may also return to the topic of Microbeads in another blog.
As all these plastics accumulate, they form ‘plastic soups’ called gyres. These plastics build up and can form incredibly large gyres. The largest gyre is located in the Pacific and is a floating mass of plastic that is said to be between the size of Texas and Russia. (Obviously it isn’t one solid layer of plastic, just an area of ocean the size of Russia that has a lot of plastic floating on the surface). Over the next 10 years, the area of plastic covering our oceans could double in size. This means that the soup grows by around 8 football fields EVERY SECOND. Everyone’s use of plastic adds to this floating dump, intentionally or not; and by taking the steps that I have mentioned and others that I haven’t but you can figure out and use in your life, for example buying loose fruit instead of grouped fruit with the useless plastic film that is dumped straight away. You can get rid of quite a lot of plastic from your lifestyle if you try, and help the environment in many different ways.
Other ways you can help is seek out alternatives to the plastic products that you rely on, i.e reusable coffee cups and containers and using the other alternatives to common single-use plastic products that you use every day. This is probably the best way that you can help reduce the amount of plastic going into landfill and our oceans. Another way to help is to volunteer at a beach cleanup, this can help clean your local environment and bring the community together as well as preventing litter dumped on the beach going into the ocean or stopping jetsam floating back into the ocean; you can even just spend 5 minutes picking up litter the next time you go to the beach. Next time you go for a walk with family and friends or your dog take a bag to pick up any litter you see. This really helps your local environment look better and be cleaner. Also spread the word, tell your friends and family and why it is important to reduce our use of plastic. Every action you take has an impact.
My name is Oscar and I am the face behind Rescuetheworldtoday. I am a student who is passionate about the environment and like to raise awareness about it through daily posts on Instagram on my account (@rescuetheworldtoday) and I also do environmentaly-themed blogs here on RippleZoo, I hope you enjoy them.