Why is plastic pollution a problem?
Scientists estimate that up to 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean each year, killing millions of marine creatures. Drifting through the world’s oceans are hundreds of tons of plastic that will not fully break down and disappear for centuries.
Around 80% of this plastic comes from the land as litter is carried out to sea by rivers and blown by the wind from landfill into the ocean.
The other 20% comes from ships at sea.
What are the issues?
- HUGE trash vortexes:
Plastic collects in big, circular ocean currents forming swirling ‘trash vortexes’. The largest of these vortexes is in the North Pacific Ocean and is estimated to be twice the size of Texas! At the centre of it there are around 6 kilos of plastic for every kilo of living plankton.
- Some plastic floats near the surface:
Old fishing nets entangle and trap seals. Sharks are hooked on lost fishing lines. Inquisitive dolphins trap their snouts in old plastic packaging. Seabird stomachs are filled with bottle tops that they cannot digest and turtles choke on plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish.
- Tiny microplastics:
Most of the plastic in our oceans has been broken down into such tiny pieces that we cannot see it. These ‘microplastics’ soak up dangerous chemicals from the water before they are eaten by plankton and filter-feeding animals. Once they have been eaten they quickly move up the food chain as predators eat their prey and build up in high concentrations in large species like sharks, tuna and whales.