BECOMING PLASTIC

OCEAN POLLUTION

On average, 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean from land every year, enough to fill every foot of coastline worldwide with five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic. [4]

The most common forms include cigarette butts, bottle caps, bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers, and straws. [2]

As much as 85% of plastic pollution found on shorelines are in the form of microplastics, pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm. [4]

 

Between 15-31% of all the plastic in the oceans originate from primary microplastic sources, plastics produced at that size. [1]

At this rate, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. [5]

Plastic has been found in about 700 species of marine wildlife. Marine wildlife are attracted to plastic debris because it becomes coated with a layer of algae that releases DMS, an odorant that smells like food. In addition, plastic like bags can resemble jellyfish.

The consequences are devastating, causing death by obstruction to the digestive and respiratory tracts. It is estimated that half of the world's sea turtles and over 90% of seabirds have ingested plastic. [4][5]

Abandoned fishing gear, also called ghost nets, ropes, or lines, entangle marine wildlife, causing suffocation, starvation, severe lacerations, ulcers, and/or infections. [1]

In total, every year it is estimated that more than 400,000 marine mammals die due to ocean plastic pollution. [4]

Plastics also make their way into the human body through additives such as BPA, a flame retardant. One study found that 95% of adults in the U.S. had detectable levels of BPA in their urine. [1]

 

Exposed to humans through inhalation, ingestion, or absorption through the skin or eyes, BPA is a known endocrine disrupting agent that can cause disturbances in fertility, reproduction, sexual maturation and more. [4]

Microplastics are also ingested via food and water, as well as inhaled through the air. One study estimates that the average person ingests five grams of plastic each week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, and 1769 particles solely from drinking water. [3][4]

Another study found the largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, followed by shellfish. Most of these microplastics were found to be in the form of microfibers. [3][5]

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Sources

1. Boucher, Julien and Damien Friot. "Primary Microplastics in the Oceans." IUCN, 2017, pp. 5. IUCN Library System, doi:dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.CH.2017.01.en.

2. "A Guide to Plastic in the Oceans." NOAA, 2020, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/marinedebris/plastics-in-the-ocean.html.

3. Miles, Tom. "You May Be Eating a Credit Card's Worth of Plastic Each Week: Study." Reuters, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-environment-plastic/you-may-be-eating-a-credit-cards-worth-of-plastic-each-week-study-idUSKCN1TD009.

4. Ocean Portal Team. "Marine Plastics." Smithsonian Ocean, 2018, https://ocean.si.edu/conservation/pollution/marine-plastics.

5. Rhodes, Christopher J. "Plastic Pollution and Potential Solutions." Science Progress, vol. 101, no. 3, 2018, pp. 218-31. Sage Journals, doi:https://doi.org/10.3184/003685018X15294876706211.

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