We are (accidentally) dumping TONS of plastics into our oceans.
How much? In 2010, perhaps as much as 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries. 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entered the ocean.
And that number is only expected to increase, unless we (and the nations we live in) take strong measures to dispose of trash responsibly, the research suggests.
This month, the article Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean was published by the journal Science. The report aims to link worldwide data on “solid waste, population density, and economic status,” and it went on to estimate the mass of land-based plastic that ends up in our waters.
The New York Times has done a couple of featured articles based around the report, including Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says, and Study Finds Rising Levels of Plastics in Oceans.
You can read further about the damages that the plastics (and other human footprints) have done to coral reefs, fish, birds, whales and other underwater ecosystems there.
I’ll leave you with one jarring statistic from the Times:
If we estimate that 8 million MT of plastic enter the ocean (the middle figure of the plastic weight estimate), then that is the equivalent of five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world entering our oceans.
There are many things we can do to reduce our impact on the environment we live in. Plastic, specifically, is not biodegradable, but photodegradable. In reality, most plastic bags don’t disappear – they become “plastic dust” – soaking up and then releasing toxins into the environment.
It’s difficult to conceptualize the scale of the problem. But there simple things we can do as individuals to enact change in our own lives that, together, have a significant impact on the world in which we live.
Easy ways to reduce plastic waste:
- Don’t use plastic!
- Fortunately, there are many alternatives to plastic bags and containers. From cloth bags to compostable silverware and storage containers, we have a choice in the materials we use.
- Plastic, disposable water bottles are an invention of the past! Reusable containers are inexpensive and even fashion-forward!
- Don’t use straws to stir your coffee in the morning – instead multipurpose the knife or spoon you were going to use for your breakfast anyway. Straws are one of the top ten items found on beaches.
- Re-sell or recycle your electronics. All those cell phones, TVs and computers add up!
- If you use plastic, please recycle your plastic!
- Many cities have single-stream recycling, or a bin dedicated to plastic reuse.
- Wash your plastic containers and use them again!
- Does this problem speak to you? Attend a creek, park or ocean clean-up day. Have you helped out with these types of projects before? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.