Plastic and our oceans

Plastic+and+our+oceans

Mingyi Chen

We all love the ocean. We swim in it, go fishing, take cruises, and many other activities in and around the ocean. But have you ever wondered what we are doing to the ocean?

Plastic waste is one of the very important problems we need to start worrying about. You may think, plastic waste isn’t really a problem right? We recycle our plastic, so it won’t go into the oceans. But even if you recycle all your plastic bottles, only 7% — that’s right, 7% — gets recycled. The vast majority, 79%, ends up in landfills and the ocean.

Through the 1900s, many countries were dumping raw sewage and plastic waste into the oceans. At one point, 80% of New York’s plastic waste was being dumped into the ocean. In 1992, the Ocean Ban Dumping Act was passed to stop the dumping of sewage sludge and industrial waste into the ocean. Today, most of the waste dumped into the ocean is dredged material. But that doesn’t mean the ocean is free of plastic. All those years of plastic waste being dumped into the ocean has added up, and even today, countries such as China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, dump more plastic into the ocean each year than all the other countries in the world combined! The beach Da Loc, in Vietnam, due to plastic, is now more plastic than sand.

Plastic is a synthetic organic polymer that is used from packaging to building. Since plastic is cheap, strong, and lightweight, many companies produce materials made from plastic. Every year, we produce about 300 million tons of plastic, (for reference, that is almost the weight of everyone on the Earth combined). About 8 million tons ends up in the oceans. Every day, over 6 million pieces of plastic go into the oceans.

Plastic is everywhere. Just go to a random beach, or find some ocean water, and you will find plastic. You may not see it, but plastic is there. Plastic takes about 1,000 years to decompose! So it will just break down into smaller pieces until 1,000 years later. Today there are about 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic in our ocean & 46,000 pieces in every square mile of ocean. In some places, the plastic is brought together by ocean currents, where they form massive groups called garbage patches. The biggest one is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and it covers about 1.6 million square kilometers.

When animals eat plastic, mostly mistaking it for food, or accidentally swallowing micro pieces of it, it may block their stomach tube. In other cases, the plastic gets stuck in the throat and the animal dies. If the plastic makes it past the mouth, it will end up in the stomach, and over time it builds up, until the whole stomach is plastic and the animal dies. Every single year, over 1 million sea animals die from this deadly plastic.

But there still is a chance. Stop using single-use straws and plastic water bottles. Instead, use a reusable water bottle. Plus, are straws really necessary? You could save a sea animal just by not using a straw. Join in cleanups near and around your community, to make the environment better for future generations. If you want to learn more about how you can help, go to https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution.

Sources:

NDRC Stop Plastic Pollution: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution

IUCNMarinePlastics: https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/marine-plastics#:~:text=At%20least%208%20million%20tons,causes%20severe%20injuries%20and%20deaths.

Our World in Data: https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution