Plastic Seas

Vultures scavenge among rubbish, Costa del Este, Panama City. Photo: Luis Acosta

More worrying statistics about how we are polluting our seas, the very thing that gave life to this planet. This is Number 11 in the Climate Change environmental articles.

An unprecedented rise in plastic pollution has been uncovered by scientists, who have calculated that more than 170tn plastic particles are afloat in the oceans. They have called for a reduction in the production of plastics, warning that “cleanup is futile” if they continue to be pumped into the environment at the current rate.

The research, by the 5 Gyres Institute and published in the journal Plos Oneevaluates trends of ocean plastic from 1979 to 2019. The authors noted a rapid increase of marine plastic pollution and blamed the plastics industry for failing to recycle or design for recyclability.

Dr Marcus Eriksen, the co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, said: “The exponential increase in microplastics across the world’s oceans is a stark warning that we must act now at a global scale, stop focusing on cleanup and recycling, and usher in an age of corporate responsibility for the entire life of the things they make.

“Cleanup is futile if we continue to produce plastic at the current rate, and we have heard about recycling for too long while the plastic industry simultaneously rejects any commitments to buy recycled material or design for recyclability. It’s time to address the plastic problem at the source.”

The researchers looked at 11,777 samples of floating ocean plastics to create a global time series that estimated the average counts and mass of microplastics in the ocean surface layer, lining up the data with international policy measures aimed at reducing plastic pollution to evaluate their effectiveness. It found that from 2005, there had been a rapid increase in the mass and abundance of ocean plastic. This could reflect exponential increases in plastic production, fragmentation of existing plastic pollution or changes in terrestrial waste generation and management.

The scientists estimate at least 170tn plastic particles are present in the oceans, with a combined weight of about 2m tonnes. They say without immediate global action on plastic production, the rate of plastic entering aquatic environments is expected to increase approximately 2.6-fold from 2016 to 2040.

Scientists have called for governments to take action to stem the plastic tide. Dr Edward J Carpenter, of the Estuary and Ocean Science Center at San Francisco State University, said: “We know the ocean is a vital ecosystem and we have solutions to prevent plastic pollution. But plastic pollution continues to grow and has a toxic effect on marine life. There must be legislation to limit the production and sale of single-use plastics or marine life will be further degraded. Humans need healthy oceans for a livable planet.”

The paper is timely, as UN member states are meeting to decide policy on plastic pollution this spring.

Researchers have warned that international policies on plastic are fragmented, lack specificity and do not include measurable targets. They have called for corporate responsibility for plastic production to be enforced globally, with legally binding legislation that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, from extraction and manufacturing to its end of life.

NOTE: Material and article from Helena Horton and Damian Carrington.


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3 Responses to Plastic Seas

  1. lorncal says:

    Hi GB, hubby and I were speaking about this very issue the other day. I might be getting senile in my old age, but I am sure that I read somewhere about plastic eating bacteria, otherwise harmless (or so they said). Although they are not there yet, they expect to be eventually. Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed because the marine life is already showing dire signs of plastic ‘poisoning’. I do not believe we can save the planet except by cutting back on waste, recycling, etc., but, at top of the list must be scientific innovation and invention. Too much of our scientific funding and research is concentrated on things that will matter little if the planet dies, and too many billionaires trying to make even more money, more than any one person could hope to spend in a hundred lifetimes, from bleeding the planet dry. Fiddling on the margins is not going to do it. The drinks recycling scheme was a good idea, but it needs a lot of tweaking to make it viable, and economically viable, and we need to start educating children from the earliest ages that dropping litter and ruining the environment will no longer be tolerated. We are all guilty of the guzzling and throw-away, disposable-everything culture, and that, too, needs to be curtailed, with education, but also by example from the grown-ups. It’s getting quite scary now.

  2. 4tinyhands says:

    It is so sad what it’s happening in the world right now. I wrote today an article about the effects of plastic exposure on wildlife. It is based on the latest scientific studies, the latest published on 26th February 2023. There is a new disease in wildlife caused by plastic pollution, called Plasticosis. Our wildlife is getting sicker and sicker and we don’t seem to care…

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