WHY IS IT URGENT TO ACT?
A total of 275 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2010
31.9 million metric tonsJambeck, J.R. et Al
of mismanaged coastal plastic waste (1)
Refer to Jambeck, J.R. et Al (2), the various scientific studies conducted so far, make account in an approximate way, of the extent of the disaster.
The study reports that plastic pollution in the ocean first appeared in the scientific literature in the early 1970s. Yet close than 50 years later, no rigorous estimates exist of the amount and origin of plastic debris entering the marine environment.
(1) Ground plastic waste = 23.10 million metric tons
Plastic waste in oceans = 8.80 million metric tons
Mismanaged coastal plastic waste = 31.90 million metric tons
(2) Study by Jambeck, J.R. et Al, “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean“, University of Georgia, Feb. 2015
In 1975, the estimated annual flux of litter of all materials to the ocean was 6.4 million tons, represent 5.8 million metric tons, based only on discharges from ocean vessels, military operations, and ship casualties.
The research of Jambeck, J.R. calculated that 275 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010. Scaling by the population living within 50 km of the coast, the study estimates that 99.5 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in coastal regions in 2010.
Of this, 31.9 million metric tons were classified as mismanaged and an average of 8.8 million metric tons (27.5%), entered the ocean in 2010, with an estimation of 245.000 metric tons (0.768%) of plastic waste floating at the surface.
By 2025, the amount of plastic entering the ocean is expected to increase to 70 million tonnes assuming current trends continue.
Looking closer at these numbers and this graphic, we can see that something is missing from our sight, it means that less than 1% of the plastic in the ocean is on the surface, and more than 99% are under the waterline.
The quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown, less than 1% of the plastic in the ocean is on the surface, and more than 99% are under the waterline.
These 99% are classified
in TWO microplastic categories
- Primary : Primary microplastics are from cosmetics or plastic pellets in a size smaller than 5mm like microbeads (e.g. toothpaste, skin exfoliating soap, facial scrubs, etc).
- Secondary : Secondary microplastic comes from larger plastic items which ultraviolet rays and seawater break down into smaller pieces.
Plastic debris are known to injure seabirds and marine animals, by damaging their digestive organs or guts. Stucking in the stomach, they can starve to death because they cannot take up enough real food.
A second danger for animals is to be entangled in plastic, starving or being eaten by a predator without the possibility to move anymore, or drowning because they are not able to go back to the surface (e.g. turtles, seals, etc).
Plastic pollution is responsible for the death of about 1 million of birds and 100.000 of marine mammals, annually. All animals are in danger, including human being.
Plastic litter is emerging as two major issues
- They contain toxic additives to increase their durability like the nonylphenol, an endocrine disruptor that can cause breast cancer or endometriosis.
- Microplastics also absorb pollutants (e.g. fuel tank degassing, oil leaks from marine traffic, industrial activity, etc) from the ocean. Some are carcinogenic and highly toxic like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, widely used in electric appliances until the 1970s), and PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used as flame retardants, affecting thyroid function).
Plastic accumulation in plankton, eaten by fishes which are eated by human being, leads to a global plastic contamination, not only of seas, oceans and marine living species, but also of our bodies.
A lifetime of plastic
The first plastics made from fossil fuels are just over a century old. They came into widespread use after World War II and are found today in everything from cars to medical devices to food packaging. Their useful lifetime varies. Once disposed of, they break down into smaller fragments that linger for centuries.
Ph.D. Richard Thompson is far from an alarmist, anyway he’s also convinced that plastic trash in the ocean is far more than an aesthetic problem. (3)
(3) Based on an article written by Laura Parker published by National Geographic, Jun. 2018. This story is part of Planet or Plastic — a National Geographic’s multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis.
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I don’t think we should be waiting for a key finding of whether or not fish are hazardous to eat. We have enough evidence to act. I’m not saying plastics are the enemy, but there is a lot the industry can do to help solve the problem. The real solution is to stop plastic from entering the ocean in the first place, and then to rethink our whole approach to the amazing stuff.Ph.D. Richard Thompson
The challenge of recycling
Globally, 18 percent of plastic is recycled, up from nearly zero in 1980. Plastic bottles are one of the most widely recycled products. But other items, such as drinking straws, are harder to recycle and often discarded.
Here is how easy to be recycled the different types of plastic material that we daily use :
Figure Sources : ASTM International; Association of Plastic Recyclers; Roland Geyer, University of California, Santa Barbara • © Jason Treat and Ryan Williams, NGM Staff. Art: Radio.