Given the fact that mankind produces roughly the same weight of plastic as the total weight of all the people on planet earth, plastic pollution is at shocking levels. Since the 1950s, 9.1 billion tons of plastic has been manufactured and almost every single piece of plastic made still exists in some form or another.
Now you may be left asking how much plastic goes into the ocean especially considering global recycling campaigns and the shift we’re experiencing towards eco-conscious living. Plastic pollution will outweigh all the fish by 2050 if we don’t do something significant soon.
Five Ocean Gyres Where Plastic Accumulates
There are five areas known as ocean gyres where plastic accumulates and circulates in massive quantities due to the meeting ocean currents and circular wind patterns. The problem with plastic is that most plastics are far less dense than water which ensures that it doesn’t sink once in the ocean. Stronger plastics are carried across the surface of the sea making their way to one of five plastic accumulation areas.
Once plastics are trapped in one of these gyres they began degrading into microplastics. There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way. The more plastic amasses the more microplastic lies beneath eventually penetrating to even the deepest depths of the ocean floor.
The World’s Largest Floating Trash Patch
Situated halfway between Hawaii and California is the largest offshore plastic accumulate zone in the world, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In this single gyre, scientist sampled 1.8 to 3.6 trillion pieces of plastic weighing approximately 80,000 tons.
Estimates place this as the equivalent of 250 pieces of plastic debris for every human on planet Earth. This trash patch spans 600,000 square miles which is roughly twice the size of Texas, or three times the area of France. Yet, this region is hard to identify using aerial photography thanks to the wide idea across which the plastic is dispersed, and would could between $122 and $489 million dollars to clean without equipment or labor costs included. That estimate only covers the cost of boat time.
90% of Plastic Fragments End Up at the Ocean Floor
Studies by Norway-based SINTEF in 2018 uncovered startling results. Their research shows that 90% of all plastic fragments eventually end up on the ocean floor. Within just nine months, 90% of all new microplastics sink to the bottom of the sea interacting with many forms of microbiology at the planet’s most basic level. Out of this alarming amount of pollution what is even more shocking is that 20% of all of it is directly the result of intentional marine pollution. This is a problem which has to stop.
Where Does it All Come From?
Intentional littering is one of the biggest causes of marine debris. Regardless of whether you throw you wrapper or packet into the street or a river, rainwater will move the trash into drains which then carry the garbage to streams, rivers and other bodies of water which ultimately end up in the ocean.
Other sources of plastic pollution include litter from commercial and recreational ships, aquaculture equipment such as rope, fishing gear and nets, and land-based sources including but not limited to dumping, production waste, plastic sheeting and plastic packaging. The world needs to severely cut its plastic production by reducing the demand on plastic products. For as long as we are all using plastic, it will continue to litter our planet.
The Far-reaching Effects of Marine Plastic Pollution
Given the fact that there is enough plastic to cover every foot of coastline in the world with five trash bags of plastic annually, it is our duty to not only clean up where and when we can by taking a trash bag along with to the beach or river, but also to reduce our usage of plastic products. Microplastics already pose a massive unknown risk to our ecology and well-being.
It is known that they interact with food chains at the most basic of levels but only time will tell how this changes the growth and evolution of life at larger levels than microorganisms. Health studies have already established the connection between chemicals such as phthalate and BPA present in plastic and the impact they can have on the growth of a fetus. It is to be expected that as time passes more and more of plastic’s ill-effects will eventually come to the fore.
We need to reduce our plastic use on every level to prevent it from reaching the ocean completely. Only then will cleanup campaigns begin to turn around the sad situation of marine plastic pollution.