It is estimated that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic, with a combined mass of more than 250,000 tons, floating in our oceans. Despite plastic production increasing twentyfold across the last half century, just 5% of plastics are recycled effectively, while 40% end up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.
Every year at least 8m tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean — which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. This is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. If nothing is done, the ocean is expected to contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans!
What can be done to kick-start ideas and projects that can help towards halting these destructive tendencies? One video in particular went ultra-viral receiving nearly forty million views. Christine Figgener, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University was conducting research off the Costa Rican coast when she noticed an Olive Ridley sea turtle with what appeared to be a parasitic worm growing from its nose. Upon closer examination the worm turned out to be a plastic straw completely embedded in the turtle’s nostril. The plastic straw was eventually removed and the turtle was returned to the ocean.
Perhaps the distress of witnessing an animal in such pain was the thing that made the video go viral, helping to give birth to the “no straw” movement, resulting in plastic straws being removed from drinks in restaurants, bars and resorts around the globe. While viewing this video on YouTube you can also find other saddening examples of the negative impact that plastic is having on our oceans – there is no lack of videos on marine life impacted by plastic ocean debris.
Similarly, plastic microbeads can no longer be used in cosmetics and personal care products in the UK, after a long-promised ban came into effect in January 2018. Thousands of tonnes of plastic microbeads from products such as exfoliating face scrubs and toothpastes wash into the sea every year, where they harm wildlife and can ultimately be eaten by people. The UK government first pledged to ban plastic microbeads in September 2016, following a US ban in 2015.
A frozen island composed completely of plastic debris floating in the cold, southern Pacific, is now home to a colony of Gentoo penguins. Is this image the future? And how far does our wasteful plastic habit travel? In Sir David Attenborough’s Series, Blue Planet II, he is almost brought to tears over seeing a mother feeding her chick plastic “tidbits” that she thinks are food. Many seabirds and their chicks suffocate or starve from ingesting plastic.
Five giant, rotating islands of plastic are known to exist in the North and South Pacific; the Indian Ocean and the North and South Atlantic. Now it seems that there is another and this one is much closer. Called the “Floating Island of Roatan”, it collects debris from Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and the Caribbean Islands. This “island” is much smaller than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but is this a forewarning of a developing sixth gyre of floating plastic waste?