All the plastic ever made still exists. Every plastic bag you’ve handled, every toothbrush you’ve ever used, every plastic water bottle you’ve drunk from… all still out there.
More and more plastic is washing into our oceans and being dumped on landfill sites. And it’s the effect it’s on marine wildlife in particular that’s drawn the attention of the media and government in the past year.
A look at the numbers
That number mentioned above is the estimated number of plastic straws thrown out every single day in the US and UK. That’s well over 200 billion per year.
This, plus 1 trillion plastic bags, 2 billion disposable razors, 27.4 billion nappies… the list goes on. In the end, 12.7 million tonnes of plastic wash into the seas and oceans annually. Plastic is set to outweigh all the fish in the seas by 2050 – a terrifying prospect for marine wildlife.
It’s worth considering what plastic does to the animals and ecologies it encounters. We know it’s harmful, but what does that mean specifically?
The threat of Microplastics
One of the biggest environmental concerns facing the ocean is the build up of microplastics. These are smaller fragments (less than 5mm in diameter) broken off from larger pieces over time. Microbeads found in cosmetic products such as facewash are also types of microplastic that routinely wash straight into the ocean, as they are incredibly difficult to filter.
Microplastic is toxic. And it’s confused for food by sea turtles. Sea turtles ingest microplastic, it clogs their digestive organs and leaves them with less room for food. It also affects their reproductive abilities and is a cause of slow, fatal poisoning.
From top to bottom
This effect is experienced all along the food-chain. Lugworms, an important source of food for cod, crabs and seabirds are adversely affected by microplastic pollution. Microplastics accumulate in sand and sediment, the areas where lugworms live and feed. The toxic chemical compounds affect their energy levels and make them potentially harmful for larger organisms to consume.
Wherever you look, plastic is causing devastation to wildlife. So, what impact does plastic pollution in the oceans have on humans?
It affects us all
If plastic enters the food-chain, it has the potential to cause problems for human consumers. A cod that eats a plastic-polluted lugworm is likely to carry fragments of this material themselves. It’s not difficult to see how this would affect seafood.
In 2016, a report from the University of Plymouth claimed that up to a third of all UK-caught fish contained plastic fragments . In fact, a regular consumer of seafood ingests over 11,000 pieces of microplastic per year. This is a serious public health concern, particularly when you consider that some plastics contain compounds that can cause cancer.
If the problem remains untreated, not only will the numbers of fish and other wildlife dwindle, but the quality of the seafood we eat is likely to deteriorate further.
What's being done about it?
Plans have been launched to help tackle the problem. Both the US and the UK have banned microbeads. These tiny pieces of plastic previously found in toothpaste, shower gel, facewash and other cosmetics have now been phased out of production and sale.
At the same time this ban was announced, the UK government also announced a 25-year plan to end plastic waste in the country. Among other things, this includes compelling supermarkets to offer aisles with no plastic packaging, a proposed 25p tax on disposable coffee cups and more water fountains to combat plastic water bottle waste, among other proposals.
What can I do about it?
We all have a responsibility to cut down on plastic use. That’s why EcoVibe exists. We want to make it easier for people to cut plastic from their daily lives and make a positive impact in the fight against plastic.
We hope you’ll join us.Find alternatives