How Much Plastic Is In The Ocean?

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How Much Plastic Is In The Ocean

The Ocean plays a key role in supporting life on earth. This is because it holds the highest volume of water on the surface of the earth. From whatever perspective, we know that water is an important source of life. The Ocean is the largest source of all the water in the world with a percentage of 97% of all the water in the world[1].

On average, we put 12.7 million tones of plastic pollutants in the Ocean. Research shows that there are currently 5.24 trillion micro and macro plastic pieces in our ocean. Every square mile of our ocean is covered by 46,000 pieces of this waste with a weight of up to 269,000 tones[2].

The damage that this plastic waste causes to the ecosystem and marine life is irreparable. When the Ocean is threatened as it is, it means that also life is threatened. The reason is because all living things rely on Ocean either directly or indirectly. The Ocean helps to regulate the climate by absorbing CO2 in the atmosphere thus aiding to purify the air. It is also a source of protein and the habitant for billions of plants and animals.

This article discusses facts and statistics on plastic pollution in the Ocean. It helps to highlight the extent of damage that is being done on marine life, the Ocean’s ecosystem, and the impacts on humanity. As you continue to dive deep into this article you will notice that this plastic pollutant in the Ocean is no joke.

Percentage of Plastics in the Ocean

A report presented at the United Nations Marine Conference in 2017 indicated that 80 percent of all the waste in the Ocean is plastics[3].

The ocean is the ending point of all waterways in all continents. These waterways carry with them many pollutants and especially the plastic wastes that are human-generated. This makes the percentage of plastic wastes in the ocean to continue increasing each minute, day, month, and year. It happens as more water continues to pour into the ocean from different continents.

With more than 52 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean, marine life is seriously at risk. The pollution problem is not expected to end any time soon. The reason is that the volume of plastic that continues to be produced in the world every year is still worrying. The truth of the matter is that all these plastics will end up in the ocean in one way or another some days.

Imagine that 381 million tones of plastic are released as waste each year! And worse of this is that this volume of waste plastic released is projected to double by 2034. The single-use plastics comprise of the larger composition of plastic waste. The plastic for single use forms 50 % of all the plastic wastes that are contained in the ocean.

The Common Types of Plastic Waste in the Ocean

Ocean waste is composed of different types of plastic waste. Among the plastic waste in Ocean, the most common are food wrappers, cigarette butts, straws, beverage bottles, cups and plates, single-use bags, and bottle caps. The common types of plastic wastes in the ocean fall under microplastics.

Microplastics form a big percentage of all the plastic wastes in the Ocean. They are a big concern because they are frequently ingested by marine life either directly or indirectly. When marine life ingests these plastics, this also pose danger on human life. This because we can also ingest pollutants indirectly after feeding on fish. Common microplastics include nylon, acrylic, polyethylene, polystyrene, polypropylene, polyvinyl, polyurethane, polymethyl acrylate, and polyvinyl chloride. Common examples of microplastics include:

  • Microbeads – These are small plastics that are commonly used in products like toothpaste.
  • Scrubbers -Plastic particles that are used as cleaning agents in industrial processes.
  • Nurdles -plastics used in manufacturing as raw material.
  • Fibers – They come from clothing and products like cigarette filters. They enter water bodies when clothes with synthetic fibers are washed with machines.

There are also secondary microplastics. These come as a result of plastic breakdown that happens in the environment. For instance, in the course of tire and wear of car tires and other products.

How Big Is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers an area of 1.6 million kilometers square. The amount of individual plastic in this garbage after estimating was found to be 3.6 trillion.

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch before? How about its size? Don’t worry if you haven’t because you are now reading the right article that will give you all the facts about it. If only you can see this garbage patch in the Pacific, that is the time you can sense that plastic wastes are a real threat to life.

We are used to seeing waste on water bodies and beaches but that is nothing compared to the situation in the North Pacific Ocean. And by the way, do you ever wonder what happens to these wastes that we see on the water bodies? Maybe some of us don’t even want to disturb our minds with such thoughts, do you?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a big area that is covered with garbage. It is situated in the North Pacific Ocean. It has tons of garbage most of which are plastic waste. The waste has accumulated over many years. Though this waste accumulation in the Pacific is an extreme scenario we may have more patches in water bodies across the world in coming times if we don’t take caution.

The Amount of Plastic that is Added to the Ocean Every minute

A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum revealed the scale of the breakdown in the world plastic system. That out of the 78 million tons of all plastic packaging manufactured annually, 32% ends up in the Ocean. This has been equated with pouring one truck of plastic garbage into the ocean every minute. This is a huge amount of plastic waste that ends up on our water bodies especially knowing that the waste is undegradable.

If we continue with this trend, then it is expected that the pour of plastic in the Ocean will increase to two trucks every minute by 2030 and then 4 trucks per minute by 2050. If this continues, then by 2050, there could be more plastics in the oceans than the fish.

Only 14% of the global packaging plastic is collected for recycling. Out of this collection, only 2% is used again for repackaging. From this, a total of between $80 and $110 billion of cash is lost annually from the wastage of the collected material. Though people are working to change this system, the process should be hurried so that time may not overtake us.

How Long Will A Plastic Bottle Take to Break Up In The Ocean

Materials that break down with time into small and more usable forms are called biodegradable. The best examples of these are woods, roots, fruits, plant leaves, animal and human excretion. Plastics don’t decompose though they can be recycled. Plastics try to be broken into small particles until these particles are too small to be seen. The problem is that the plastics take a much longer time to break down. This is the reason they continue to accumulate and pile up year after year instead of decreasing.

Whereas cigarette butts take 10 years to break down, plastic shopping bags take 20 years. The most notorious of them all is plastic bottles. They take a total of 450 years for them to break down to a point where they can’t be seen. Just imagine how many more plastic bottles will have been produced in 450 years! Americas alone are estimated to purchase 50 billion bottles of water per year. This is such a big problem right at our face!

How Plastic Gets into the Ocean

Plastics find their way into the Ocean in different ways. According to a study, land-based activities are the largest contributors of plastic into the Ocean with 80%. This is contrary to what many people think. For a long time, it has been thought that the ships were the means through which plastics get their way into the Oceans.

Wind and rainwater carry plastic waste into rivers and streams, and through the drainage. The drains end in the ocean. Improper and careless waste disposal is another contributor to plastic landing in our ocean. This is because this unwanted dumping leads to a surge of plastics in water bodies.

Worst Countries in Polluting the Ocean with Plastic

Though every country contributes to adding plastic pollutants into our Oceans, some put more plastic waste in the water bodies than others. According to a report by Ocean Conservancy, there are a list of five countries that are known to lead in polluting the ocean with plastic waste. According to the report, these countries contribute to 60% of the total plastic waste in the Ocean. These countries include Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China[9].

These five Asian countries collect only 40% of the garbage properly. Across Asia, there are communal dumps where trash is pilled. A good proportion of the remaining 60% that is left uncollected is wept and cast into the Ocean by rainwater and wind. At times dumpsites are set up intentionally near rivers. For this reason, waste will directly be carried by current or heavy rains thus leaving the dumpsite to accumulate more waste.

The situation in Asia would have even been worse if not for the effort of trash pickers. The trash pickers wade through dumpsites searching for valuable items that can be recycled. By selecting only what they think is valuable to them, they help to reduce the size of the garbage though with a very small significance.

Sea Animals that are Affected by Ocean plastic and the Number of Fish and Marine life that Die from Plastic Pollution

A report by Ocean Crusaders says that 1 million sea birds die every year due to plastic in the Ocean and approximately 100,000 marine animals in the same Ocean die of plastic entanglement[10]. Seabirds, fish, marine mammals, and sea turtles get entangled which led to their death. It has been found that with the high plastic pollution reproduction of living creatures in the ocean is affected. All the same, more marine life continues to die thus leading to a decrease in their population slowly by slowly.

Whales are among the many sea animals that are at risk with the amount of plastic pollution in the Ocean. Since whales are so big, they can accidentally ingest plastic because they also have a big mouth. The plastics can obstruct their digestion tract thus risking their lives.

Seabirds are at high risk from the plastic pollution in the ocean. This is because their style of hunting is being affected. The birds catch their food by diving into the ocean. Plastic obstacles on the Ocean obstruct the birds from seeing and pursuing their food effectively. If ingested, the plastic waste may also cause the bird to die.

The Bottom Line

It is a reality that the rate of plastic pollution in our Ocean is very high. The worry is that no substantive effort is being taken to significantly reduce this pollution. What there is that the amount of plastic waste in the Ocean is expected to increase more with the increasing volume of plastic waste being released by year. The reality is that life is at risk starting from marine life to human beings. It has been projected that unless something is done, there shall be more plastic pollutants in the ocean by 2050 than the number of fish. This is because marine life is dying in large numbers as a result of ingesting microplastics.

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