Imagine a world where the oceans have more plastic in them than fish (by weight). Well, if you’re still around in 15 years, you might not have to imagine it.
Do our oceans have more plastic than fish?
According to the WWF (cited below):
“Whilst plastic has revolutionized our way of life since it was invented in the 1950s, the problem is that most of the plastic ever made still exists. The amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to double in the next 15 years, and by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the sea (by weight).
There are giant plastic islands floating on the ocean surface, and beaches around the world are increasingly littered with plastic rubbish even in the Arctic. It may come as a shock to know that most of the plastic in the ocean is out of sight, either underwater or on the ocean floor….90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs and half of marine turtles have eaten plastic. Sea life chokes on plastic rubbish or gets tangled in it, often causing a painful slow death. And plastic pollution is contributing to the breakdown of coral reefs.”
Wow, that’s depressing.
What’s the problem with plastics?
The problem with plastic is that it doesn’t biodegrade like other materials. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics, which stick around for centuries. Microplastics enter the food chain and accumulate in the bodies of land animals and marine life. This obviously effects humans eventually too.
Our plastics end up affecting over 700 species of marine animals, including sea turtles, dolphins, and whales. These animals can become entangled in plastic debris or mistake plastic for food, leading to starvation or blockages in their digestive systems.
Plastic disrupts the entire ecosystem. For example, plastic debris can alter the flow of water, which can affect the movement and distribution of plankton, the base of the marine food chain. This can have ripple effects throughout the ecosystem, ultimately impacting human populations that rely on the ocean for food and income.
How did we get to this point?
Plastic is cheap and convenient and people don’t like to be inconvenienced or have their minds changed. The use of plastic has become ubiquitous and we show no signs of giving it up (soggy paper straws aren’t going to solve the whole problem).
Another problem is that we don’t properly dispose of or recycle plastic. Researchers estimate that we’ve only recycled around 9% of all plastic ever produced, and we send the majority to landfills. So now it’s accumulating.
Addressing industries will be a big step. For example, the clothing manufacturing, carpet, and soft drink industries use huge amounts of plastic. Of course we can reduce our use of single-use plastics, but curtailing the use of plastics in manufacturing is going to have a much bigger effect than banishing your plastic baggies. You can help by supporting policies and regulations that promote sustainable practices and reduce plastic waste.
Another important step is to properly dispose of plastic waste can prevent it from entering the environment and ultimately ending up in our oceans. That’s another job primarily for industries, but we can do our part as individuals as well.
Want to do something immediately to support conservation efforts to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean? You can participate in beach cleanup if you live nearby a body of water. Otherwise, an email or phone call to the politicians you vote for is a good start.
Source: “Will there be more plastic than fish in the sea?” — WWF