Plastics have become an important material found everywhere in our modern economy combining functional properties with low cost. The drawback is the growing amount of waste that it produces that ends up in the worlds’ oceans. At best estimates, there are over 150 million tonnes (165 million tons) of plastics in the ocean today. What are the Ways To Reduce Plastic Pollution?
We can reduce Plastic Pollution by:
Stopping the use of single-use plastics.
Avoiding Products Containing Microbeads
Using recycled Products
Supporting Plastic Pollution Organizations
Stopping the use of plastic straws & Bottled Water Containers
Supporting New Technology
At least 8 million tons of plastics include microplastics and microbeads that are types of plastics, equivalent to one garbage truck every minute leaking into the ocean each year.
How Much Plastic is in The Ocean Right Now
Scientist has estimated that over 14 billion pounds of garbage have been dumped into the ocean every year for the last 50 years. At least 8 million tons of that is plastic. There is more plastic that ends up in the oceans then there are stars in the Milky Way.
According to the World Economic Forum “The best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tons (165 million tons) of plastics in the ocean today,” the report reads. “In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 ton (1.1 tons) of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).
Plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our ocean and Great Lakes. Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes, most plastic breaks down to smaller sizes that are less than five millimeters in length or about the size of a sesame seed which is called “microplastics.” Microplastics can come from many sources and can be manufactured intentionally into smaller bits.
In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpaste.
They escape into the environment into rivers and then to the Oceans and accumulate. The ways of determining how much of these microplastics are built up in the Oceans and Great Lakes for the last 50 or more years is just recently being developed.
Because of Ocean currents plastic drifts to what scientists call Patches or “gyres.” You can think of them as big whirlpools that pull objects in. The gyres pull debris into one location, often the gyre’s center, forming “patches.” that is located in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans.
There are 5 of these Patches. The Pacific Patch is the size of Texas and exists somewhere between Hawaii and California. Researchers believe that it consists of 500,000 to 200 million tons of plastic.
There is not much that can eliminate this problem quickly, because of the amount and size of the microbeads and the fact that they have been accumulating for some time before the NOAA found them in the aquatic environment and realized the threat they posed.
How Does Bioaccumulation Occur
Most microplastics are so small in size and mistaken as a food source for fish and sea birds that eventually are killed by eating them or are passed on to other aquatic life that eat. This happens in the process of Bioaccumulation where chemicals and Plastics are added to the food chain. I wrote an article in MyWaterEarth&Sky calledHow Does Bioaccumulation in Fish Work explains how this happens.
Bioaccumulation in fish works when:
- Chemicals end up in oceans, rivers, etc.
- Settle to the bottom sediment
- Tiny creatures dig in the sediment and eat the chemicals
- Creatures are eaten by minnows
- Minnows are eaten by fish
- Larger fish eat the smaller fish & all the stored chemicals
- Humans eat the larger fish
When scientists discovered the number of microplastics in the stomachs of dead seabirds, it suggested the Pacific Ocean off the northwest coast of North America was more polluted than was realized. The birds were an indicator of this.
The birds, called northern fulmars, feed exclusively at sea. By examining the stomach contents of these birds, researchers are able to get an idea of how much microplastics are in the marine environment and see the increase over the last 40 or more years that they have been studying them.
Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans,” said Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in University of British Columbia’s Department of Zoology. “Their stomach content provides a ‘snapshot’ sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean.”
Plastic products like twine, Styrofoam, and candy wrappers were found in more than 90% of the Northern Fulmars’ stomachs. This is affecting the whole ecosystem and is responsible for the deaths besides of 100’s of thousands of seabirds of many other marine animals like Sea Turtles and other mammals that are already in danger of extinction.
Besides ingesting plastics fish like sharks rays and others are being strangled by plastic pollution. Increasing numbers of sharks have been found washed up dead by being wrapped in plastic netting or twine that can actually cut them in half. Lost fishing nets are especially dangerous. In fact, they are often called “ghost” nets because they continue to fish even though they are not being operated by any fishery.
Ghost nets can trap or wrap around animals, entangling them. Plastic debris with loops can also get hooked on wildlife think packing straps, six-pack rings, handles of plastic bags, etc. affect the lives of dolphins and whales. Each year human activity in the waters that these mammals and fish habitat decrease the chances of their survival.
- Overfishing is the number one cause of death and the threat of extinction.
- Carbon Emissions are acidifying the waters, making it hard for small sea animals to reproduce,
- Rising Global Temperatures are cooking coral reefs alive. But now
- Plastic Pollution although it has been under the radar for a while, the ubiquitous material that comes in so many forms is terrorizing everything that depends on these waters around the world.
Researchers have found that nearly 50% of Sea turtles around the world’s Oceans have consumed some sort of plastic. The average US citizen consumes 167 plastic water bottles each year but recycles just 25% of them. The figures that have been discovered in recent studies about microplastics and the dangers that they impose on the aquatic environment could increase by a factor of 10 in the next decade.
Plastic Waste Statistics
The international environmental association WWF has just published a new report about plastic pollution on a global scale. This report is ringing the alarm again because nothing gets better despite a generalized awareness.
Indeed, according to WWF, plastic pollution is uncontrollable. By 2030, the plastic pollution of our oceans could double, threatening marine life and our own health.
According to Isabelle Autissier, President of WWF France: “More than 310 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2016, one third of which ended up in nature. The report is damning and has dramatic consequences for the environment, human health and the economy. The impact on biodiversity is particularly striking: to date, more than 270 species have been entangled and more than 240 have ingested plastic. “
A recent study from the University of Georgia source** The WWF released findings that China and Indonesia are the main sources of plastic pollution for single use: bottles, packaging, and main bags polluting the oceans. This study estimates that China and Indonesia alone are responsible for around 5 million tons of plastic waste ending up at sea each year.
Rivers are the major contributor of plastic to the world’s oceans. Plastics in the marine environment are one of the major concerns because of their persistence at sea, and adverse consequences to marine life and potentially human health. The interactive map shows the results of a global numerical model that predicts inputs of plastics from rivers into the marine environment.
The map also depicts the data used by the model such as mismanaged plastic waste production on land, river catchment hydrology, and the location of dams and man-made barriers worldwide.This map actually shows how much plastic has entered the ocean since you started looking at this page.
The tools are amazing now for using estimates on all kinds of pollution. Of the 40,760 ocean-bound rivers studied, just 20 are responsible for two-thirds of the global plastic input. In total, between 1.15 and 2.41 million metric tons of plastic are deposited into the oceans by rivers.
Garbage Patches and Human Health.
There are not enough studies done on how Garbage Patches and Plastic Pollution are affecting the health of humans as of yet. Researchers know that humans may be exposed to microplastics from a number of sources, such as seafood, sea salt, tap water, beer, and even honey.
Plastic microfibers can be transported in the air and found in household dust from furniture, carpet, clothing, etc. so exposure from seafood and other ocean sources may be small in comparison. There are physical hazards that could arrive from boats or props being caught up in piles or patches of plastic and garbage. The research community is actively exploring this issue. It’s too early to tell.
If nothing changes then the size and locations of the Patches won’t change but the amount of garbage and plastics will continue to grow. Making the impact environment, navigation, vessel safety, and the economy worse.
Solutions to Ocean Pollution
By the year 2050 Scientists say that there will be more plastic in the ocean than there is fish. With skyrocketing plastic production but low levels of recycling and poor waste management between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic.It enters the ocean each year enough to cover every foot of coastline on the planet! And that amount is expected to more than double in the next decade.
Plastics never go away. Instead, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, which act as magnets for harmful pollutants. When eaten by fish, some of those chemical-laden microplastics can work their way up the food chain and into the fish we eat.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program is leading the way in researching this topic. In October 2018, the President signed the “Save our Seas Act of 2018” (Public Law No: 115-265). This law amends and reauthorizes the Marine Debris Act for four years, and promotes international action to reduce marine debris.
Including plastics in our ocean authorizes cleanup and response actions needed as a result of severe marine debris events, such as hurricanes or tsunamis that worsen the problems of Garbage Patches, and updates the membership of the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee. Additionally, the Act authorizes and requires NOAA to work with other Federal agencies to develop additional outreach and education strategies to address sources of marine debris.
Standardized field methods for collecting sediment, sand, and surface-water microplastic samples have been developed and continue to undergo testing. Eventually, field and laboratory protocols will allow for global comparisons and research joined together to find solutions to the number of microplastics released into the environment, which is the first step in determining the final distribution, impacts, and fate of this debris.
It’s incredibly hard to visualize but true. Half the seabirds and sea turtles that live in this planet’s oceans have eaten plastic. The worst part about plastic pollution is that plastic doesn’t go away it breaks off into smaller pieces known as microplastics that have not been studied long enough for Scientists to make determinations and predictions for the future. The 5 most common pieces of debris found by the last International Cleanup were:
- Plastic Cigarette butts
- Plastic Food Wrappers
- Plastic Beverage Bottles
- Plastic Bottle Caps
- Plastic Drink Straws & Plastic Stirrers
What’s in common with all these items is that they are all single-use disposable plastic items that are littered inland and find their way into the ocean.
If one person can reduce the amount of these single-use items which is a plastic item that is used once and thrown away like a coffee stirrer, it can make a huge difference. The NOAA believes when other people catch on and do the same and reuse a plastic item for other purposes like a plastic water bottle used to water plants or refill coffee cups that positive things can happen.
We need to start now and Recycle anything that can be recycled and kept out of landfills and the Oceans.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program focuses more on prevention from coastal and shorelines where the debris can be picked up and collected. Prevention is key to solving the marine debris problem over time. The NOAA Maritime Debris Program even offers Award Funding for research projects and studies at universities across America.
According to the NOAA “If you think about an overflowing sink, the first step before cleaning up the water is to turn the tap off. That is exactly how prevention works. By acting to prevent marine debris, we can stop this problem from growing”
New Plastic Solutions
New products are being developed every day to clean up the trash that includes plastic popping up across the country and coastal regions. Seabin V5-The V5 Seabin unit is a “trash skimmer” designed to be installed in the water of Marinas, Yacht Clubs, ports, and any water body with a calm environment and suitable services available.
The Seabin was developed so that it could remove as much rubbish as possible while ensuring that a full mesh bag was a safe load for one person to manage. It functions 24 hours a day and so it is able to remove far more rubbish than a person with a scoop net. It also continues to work even if the mesh bag is full; the pump continues sucking the water down through the bag, so the rubbish is simply held near the bin until the bag is changed
Boyan Slat Plastic Collector- There are some plans to target the 5 Plastic Patches by going right to the sources of the Ocean Patches and using a giant floating V-shaped boom attached to a trailing screen that catches floating debris using the currents that are moving the plastic pollution.
As the water moves through the long floating Barriers the lighter plastic gets caught up in front of the barriers. The screens underneath the surface catch small submerged plastics while all sea life can safely swim beneath the screens.
From there the plastics get funneled towards the center of the collector where a central platform collects, stores, and eventually recycles the plastics back on land. The Slat system using the V-shaped Boom and Screen will be used off the coast of Japan later in 2019.
Oceanographers are worried about whether this type of structure will be able to hold up out to sea. Plastic Removers will likely be tested closer to shore and used to collect plastic before it gets to the Patches. This might b a better way to avoid the treacherous storms that are farther out in the ocean.
Researchers ran simulators using smaller type plastic collectors called Sinks just off the coast of Indochina and China found that 31% of Ocean Plastics could be removed by 2025. The Sinks could remove plastic being swept along in currents along with plastics as they are entering the Ocean.
Other Sinks located in The Pacific Patch only removed 17 % of plastics. They also found that Plastic Collectors also had less of an impact on marine life when placed in areas closer to the shore. The problem with this is as plastic is being removed more plastic is being dumped into the ocean environment.
What we know is that the world doubles its production of plastics every decade. So we need to stop all the plastic from getting into the ocean, to begin with, to get a handle on the problem. 80% of all plastic trash comes from land and most of it is plastic water bottles and plastic packaging.
Aside from netting storm drains and recycling, most of the solutions can come from us, the consumers and advocates who steward the earth. We can stop a lot of the plastic that is collecting in the oceans before they get there.
Scientific Solutions to Plastic Pollution
In 2016, a team of Japanese scientists sifting through plastic waste almost by accident found bacteria capable of breaking down and “eating” one of the world’s most popular plastics ― polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. Which is used to make plastic water bottles and food containers.
It was announced as a potential breakthrough at the time. But in a new twist, British and American scientists have announced that while studying this bacteria, they accidentally created a mutant enzyme that’s even more efficient at breaking down plastic bottles.
The problem with plastic is that they don’t degrade like organic material such as wood or paper. Plastic breaks down when exposed to sunlight, in a process called photodegradation. The researchers from UK and America who are refining this enzyme say that if plastic is the only food source for bacteria to survive then they will find a way to consume it and adapt to it.
Scientist is hopeful that in the near future they will be able to use this enzyme in a controlled environment to use in the fight to reduce plastic from the oceans. Others are not as hopeful;
“These enzymes are not abundantly present in nature, so you would need to produce the enzyme first, then add it to the PET plastic to degrade it,” Wim Soetaert, head of the Industrial Biotechnology Centre at the University of Ghent, pointed out. “This is likely to be a slow process. If you have gone through the trouble of collecting the PET waste, then there are clearly far better ways to recycle it or burn it for energy.” He suggested the use of commercially available biodegradable bioplastics would be a better bet.
An Australian company, Licella, thinks they have the answer. Their plan is to convert end-of-life plastics (plastic that can not be recycled) into oil. Their ‘Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor’ can melt plastics into liquid fuel. This process also has its critics who say that using plastic for fuel will be an environmental tradeoff between Ocean Pollution Air Pollution and Carbon Emissions.
Ways To Beat Plastic Pollution
- Reduce the use of single-use plastic.
- Single-use plastics include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded. Reusable items that can be cleaned and not thrown away make a lot of sense.
- Recycle as much as you can.
- Only 9% of plastic worldwide is recycled even though there are the means to do it.
- Participate in waterway cleanups anywhere on your beach or river. You can do it on your own are join local groups or International groups that volunteer worldwide like this group called *International Coastal Cleanup which will be getting ready for its next big event on Sept. 21, 2019.
- You can start or participate in Community Cleanups- in streams rivers or beaches, food packaging is the most common garbage that is found and monitored and prevented from being marine debris. Start with your own household and don’t use or recycle the plastics that are destroying the aquatic environment.
- Avoid Products Containing Microbeads
Tiny plastic particles, called “microbeads,” have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpaste, and body washes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems and affect hundreds of marine species. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for “polyethylene” and “polypropylene” on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products find a list of *products containing microbeads here.
- Support Organizations Addressing Plastic Pollution
There are many non-profit organizations working to reduce and eliminate ocean plastic pollution in a variety of different ways, including
Beach Cleaning Project
Among the biggest and most popular of these Volunteer, Organizations is the worldwide ICC (The International Coastal Cleanup) Organization. Who leadership in the world of ocean conservation is built on pillars of strong science, smart policies, and engaged partners? That includes ocean advocates pushing for effective ocean policies, international groups that work with them to reduce plastics in the ocean, and over 600,000 volunteers, who are part of the International Coastal Cleanup.
The International Coastal Cleanup began more than 30 years ago when communities rallied together with the common goal of collecting and documenting the trash that was destroying their coastline.
In 1986, Linda Maraniss moved to Texas from Washington, DC, where she had been working for Ocean Conservancy. She’d been inspired by the work her Ocean Conservancy colleague Kathy O’Hara was doing on a groundbreaking report called Plastics in the Ocean: More than a Litter Problem. Their idea was that volunteers could help make a difference in solving Plastic Pollution.
Linda and Kathy reached out to the Texas General Land Office, local businesses, and other dedicated ocean-lovers, and planned what would become Ocean Conservancy’s first Cleanup.
They asked volunteers to go beyond picking up trash and record each item collected on a standardized data card in order to identify ways to eliminate ocean trash in the future.
The Cleanup has grown in leaps and bounds in the 30 years since Linda and Kathy’s first Cleanup. Volunteers from states and territories throughout the U.S. and more than 100 countries come together each year and participate in a Cleanup event near them.
Every year hundreds of thousands of volunteers come to different locations around the world’s lakes rivers and beaches cleaning areas of trash that eventually end up in the ocean.
Interested volunteers can use The Worldwide ICC Interactive Map to join groups or even start a group in their own locality to team up. Once you navigate through the map and find a location. A dedicated website is used to gather information for the Cleanup in that area.
Cleans well Abt – with this abt anyone and everyone can be a volunteer for Ocean Conservancy without working in a group and at a specific location. This idea is crazy cool. Anyone with a cell phone which is everyone in the world just about, can do a small amount every day and add the information to a worldwide data bank that was developed by the ICC. What it does is gives an individual an idea of the small but needed impact that they can make by doing a few things every day. The abt can:
- Record every item you collect
- Use different languages
- Share the information on social media
- Track the total distance you cleaned
- You can access the total weight you picked up Keep scientific information and trends
- Earn badges based on the type and quantity of trash and cleanups you do, like the Sea Turtle Saver!
Community Clean-Up Programs
It doesn’t take much to put a Cleanup together in your own area with the folks from your area. Just follow their steps from the ICC. More than 12 million volunteers have collected over 220 million pounds of trash. It doesn’t matter where you live all waterways lead to the ocean.
- Find your group– You can put together a group from your Office or Church with folks from Fishing groups or clubs or even a large family.
- Find a time & date-Set aside time at your next meeting in work near your office to clear litter from your meeting spot. If you already have Sunday brunch planned with your friends, use part of your morning to make the community a little cleaner and then make a picnic for the rest of the day. My buddy has one once a month in Atlantic City at a popular fishing jetty. Half the day they clean and the rest is all about fishing. It’s become quite the event.
- Find some tools – You really don’t need many supplies: bags for the trash, gloves for the really icky trash, and maybe some hand sanitizer.
- Track your waste – This is the coolest part of what I learned involving the International Coastal Cleanup from the NOAA. Tracking the waste you find by using the Marine Debris Tracker app. Download the app to your smartphone and record the location and type of waste you find. By contributing your data to this global citizen science initiative, you can get a better idea of the common types of litter near you, and helps us understand the different kinds of debris found all over the world!
- Make it fun-If you are competitive, offer a small prize for whoever picks up the most trash. Offer everyone a treat by ending the event at your local ice cream parlor, pizza, or donuts and coffee. Make it a special day every month before you start fishing and playing beach volleyball. The ideas are endless.