Plastic in the ocean: 6 facts you should know

Turtle in ocean with plastic bag
Photo © Pete Linforth

Why isn’t this post about upcycle design? upcycleDZINE is essentially about showing what to do with waste and creating less waste. Well, this article on plastic in the ocean is about a waste problem and our planet. So that’s why I thought it was appropriate to write this post and share it with you.
One of the biggest challenges we are all facing today is the environmental problems plastic pollution is causing. One of them is a well-known phenomenon called plastic soup. You know, that plastic floating around in our oceans. And we need to take urgent actions. It’s not that long ago that we started using plastic, but it already poses a tremendous threat to our planet, according to plastic in the ocean statistics. And that’s not only to nature but also to our society.
Plastic cup on beach
Photo © Brian Yurasits

So here are some facts you should know about plastic in the ocean:

1. Animals and plastic in the ocean

Animals eat plastic or get caught in it. This results in injury or even death. Every year, one million seabirds, one hundred thousand marine mammals, sea turtles and a countless amount of fish die from plastic pollution. And this doesn’t only concern animals but also us humans. Why, that’s easy, because we eat fish and that fish is polluted with plastic.

Photo © Angel Santos

2. What is plastic soup?

So what about this plastic soup we hear and read so much about? What is it? Increasingly more plastic is floating around in our seas and oceans. It originates for instance from the trash that we discard in the city, old fishnets and from washing clothes and brushing our teeth. Yes, even brushing your teeth. Because lots of toothpaste contain microplastics. These are tiny plastic balls that improve the shape, color and shelf life of the product. All these various sorts of plastic together form the plastic soup in the oceans and seas.
Diver and plastic in ocean
Photo © Cristian Palmer

After a while, a huge amount of this plastic that’s floating in the ocean gets separated into little pieces. This is caused by sun and wave activity. In 1997, Captain Charles Moore took his boat from Hawaii to southern California. He sailed a different route than usual and this brought him to the North Pacific Gyre in the Pacific Ocean. There he stumbled upon bits of plastic that he saw in the water. This happened for several consecutive days. So he returned to the zone to investigate and to do research.

After seeing the results he concluded that there is a fundamentally higher concentration of plastic there than somewhere else in the ocean. It wasn’t only floating around but was also carried by the existing water column. Moore called this the ‘plastic soup’. These days an often-used term that is not always clear to everyone.
Bird on beach with plastic waste
Photo © Matthew Chauvin for The Ocean Cleanup

3. The largest plastic soup area

The largest area where plastic is floating around is called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). It is located halfway between Hawaii and California. This plastic patch in the ocean, according to The Ocean Cleanup, is believed to be 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. It involves 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic.

The mass of this largest patch is estimated to be approximately 80,000 tonnes, which is 4-16 times more than previous calculations. And to give you an idea of what we are talking about, a weight equivalent to that of 500 Jumbo Jets. It is estimated that 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year from rivers.

Photo © Jasmin Sessler

4. The fashion industry and plastic

So have you ever thought that the clothes you’re wearing could contain microplastic? Well, synthetic clothes do. We are talking about millions of microplastic particles. Of all the materials that make up our clothes worldwide, 60% is polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers. These are all forms of plastic. And when clothes are washed they lose tiny fibers that eventually can reach the ocean. It’s estimated that just washing clothes accounts for 35% of the microplastics in the ocean.

Photo © The Ocean Cleanup

And these fibers contribute to pollution of the ocean in a way that is not visible but quite disastrous. Together with all microplastic present, it forms the largest part of the total amount of plastic that is in the oceans.
It is not only large companies that can combat microplastic pollution. With small changes in your washing habits, you can reduce the number of fibers you shed. Here you can find a few tips and a Good Practice Guide.

Photo © A_Different_Perspective

5. Reduce plastic pollution

Another concern is, of course, one-time-use plastic. This is plastic used for bottles, bags, and packaging that is thrown away after one-time use. 40 percent of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded. Half of all plastic products are used only once! So researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the early 1950s. About 60% of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or our natural environment.
Plastic bottle on beach
Photo © Ishan @seefromthesky

So that’s why we should at least reuse and recycle plastic. Plastic in the ocean statistics indicates that recycling plastic waste still has a long way to go. Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled globally. Plastic recycling rates are the highest in Europe at 30 percent. China’s rate is 25 percent. The United States recycles just 9 percent of its plastic trash.

And like always, it’s easier than you might think to reuse plastic yourself. Just start by using a plastic bag until it’s no longer useable. But best practice is to avoid plastic bags altogether and start using your own bag. Maybe made out of recycled plastic!
But it’s not advisable to reuse plastic bottles. When you reuse plastic bottles, tiny particles end up in your water or whatever you’re drinking. It’s even worse if you put them in the sun. It’s better to use glass or metal bottles. And if you want to reuse plastic bottles, use them like this.

6. Upcycle plastic

So last but not least, there’s, of course, another way to reduce plastic pollution. And that’s done by upcycling. You knew that already, otherwise, you wouldn’t have visited upcycleDZINE. Upcycling plastic is done in small numbers. But it shows what can be done with waste in general, that would otherwise end up on landfill. And you contribute to a better environment. Another great aspect of upcycling, in general, is that waste receives an upgrade. It gets so much more value because of its new function.
Milkchain upcycle lamp
Photo © upcycleDZINE

Maybe after reading this fact list, you want to know more about plastic in the ocean. I’ve created an overview of the websites I’ve visited as a source for this post. Enjoy!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Plastic waste is extremely dangerous, not to mention the sea, my family lives near the river every day and still sees some big fish die, when rotting, there is a lot of plastic waste in the abdomen.
    Tax should be banned or increased with plastic waste.

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