It’s often said that there are plenty of fish in the ocean, but did you ever think that there might be just as much plastic as fish floating around out there?
A disturbing report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows that the world’s oceans are on target to have a 1:1 ratio of plastic to fish (by weight) by 2050. And not to be alarmist, but all this plastic paints a pretty perturbing picture. Here’s why:
Currently, 32% of all plastic packaging is never collected—instead, it eventually finds its way into natural ecosystems like streams, rivers and oceans.
By 2025 (just nine years from now!) the amount of plastic waste available to enter the oceans could more than double, according to a study published in Science.
Much of the plastic in our oceans consists of discarded fishing line as well as “mismanaged plastic”—things like plastic water bottles and food wrappers that are washed into the ocean after being carelessly discarded.
Which countries are the worst? The quality of waste management systems as well as population size largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris, according to the Science study.
Most plastic trash now comes from China, India and other countries experiencing rapid economic growth. According to Kara Lavender Law, research professor at the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association, “Their consumption is rapidly accelerating, but the infrastructure hasn’t caught up yet.”
In 2010, between 10.5 billion and 28 billion tons of plastic entered the ocean from people living within 31 miles of the coastline.
Though developed nations like the U.S. have good waste management systems, another problem is volume. “We produce so much trash per person that even the small amount that leaks out adds up to a huge number . . . ,” Law said.
Captain Paul Watson estimates in “The Plastic Sea” (July 24, 2006) that sixty billion pounds of resin pellets are manufactured in the U.S. every year. These plastic pellets are melted and then molded to create plastic products. They are found in oceans throughout the world, typically entering them either through direct spills during cargo-handling operations at ports, spills at sea or via storm water discharges that carry them from industrial sites.
The highest concentrations of ocean plastic are found in five rotating currents, called gyres. Recently a potential sixth gyre was discovered.
On average there is six times more plastic than zooplankton by dry weight in these gyres.
The North Pacific Gyre alone is estimated to be twice the size of the state of Texas.
Marine animals like sea birds and turtles often mistake floating debris for food. And small sea creatures can also be fooled by disintegrating plastic, mistaking it for plankton.
Scientists at the University of California, Davis, found that around 25% of fish samples from markets in Indonesia and fishing boats in California were filled with plastic and debris such as clothing fibers.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
Fortunately, there is hope.
The Good News:
As the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans is swelling, more and more are now taking action to combat the rising tide.
Organizations like The Washed Ashore Project are bringing awareness to the forefront by creating beautiful artwork that speaks louder than statistics.
Since 1991 the Society of Plastics Industries (SPI), the major national trade association for manufacturers of plastic products in the U.S., has been working with the EPA to identify and minimize the sources of plastic pellet entry into the ocean.
The Ocean Cleanup Array, a floating network of barriers designed to extract plastic for recycling, is slated for testing off the coast of The Netherlands later this year. Boyan Slat, the 21-year-old Founder and CEO of Ocean Cleanup, explains in this video from The Huffington Post.
The Trash Free Seas Alliance® is bringing together industry, science and nonprofit leaders who share a common goal for a healthy ocean free of trash.
You and I can make small, conscious choices to reduce waste overall and plastic where it’s not necessary. Replace foam cups with reusable coffee mugs, plastic bags with a lunch box, and avoid disposable packaging whenever possible.
Together, we can make a difference!
What on Earth Are YOU Doing for Earth Day?
Enter our Earth Day contest April 15 – 22 and show off your small, conscious choice to make Earth a better planet!