WTF Fun Fact 13336 – Oceans with More Plastic Than Fish

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.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Will there be more plastic than fish in the sea?” — WWF

WTF Fun Fact 13335 – Fast Fashion Pollution

Cheap clothing is convenient, and changing out our wardrobes every season might make us feel more fashionable, but fast fashion pollution is a bigger problem than we imagined.

The United Nations named the fashion industry the second most polluting industry in the world. It produces 8% of all carbon emissions, 20% of all global wastewater, and uses about 93 billion cubic meters of water annually. The fashion industry is responsible for more carbon emissions than international flights and global shipping combined.

Fast fashion pollution

According to a study published in the journal Water (cited below), the fast fashion industry is a major contributor to water pollution since these brands produce large quantities of clothing at a rapid pace. This leads to excessive water usage as well as the release of harmful chemicals into our waterways.

The study found that fast fashion brands use up to 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt. This excessive water usage can lead to the depletion of water resources in areas where water is already scarce.

The industry also contributes to water pollution through the use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing process. Many brands use synthetic dyes and chemicals that can be harmful to the environment and human health.

The disposal of fast fashion clothing also contributes to water pollution. Many fast fashion items are made from synthetic materials that do not biodegrade, leading to them ending up in landfills or incinerators. The disposal of these items can release harmful chemicals into the air and leach into nearby waterways.

How to make it stop

Well, money talks. You can always invest in clothing that lasts or repair the clothing you have.

To address the water pollution associated with fast fashion, companies do try to implement more sustainable manufacturing practices. But it’s unclear to what extent this really works if they’re still selling so many garments.

Some fast fashion brands are incorporating recycled materials into their products, reducing the amount of virgin materials needed and the associated water usage. Others are implementing closed-loop systems, which recycle water and chemicals used in the production process.

But in the end, consumers may play the biggest role in reducing the water pollution associated with fast fashion. Choosing to buy clothing made from sustainable materials and produced using sustainable manufacturing practices is an option. But a better one is reducing clothing waste by donating or recycling clothing to keep textiles out of landfills and reduce the pollution associated with textile disposal.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The Environmental Impacts of Fast Fashion on Water Quality: A Systematic Review” — Water (Journal)