Over the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
We use tons of plastic. From food wrappers to shopping bags, plastic can be found in pretty much everything. Over the last 50 years, global production and consumption of plastic has spiked. Approximately 300 million tons of plastics are produced annually, yet less than 5% is recycled worldwide. Carried by winds, drains, people, and other vessels, massive amounts of our trash find its way to the ocean. Studies estimate that our ocean is teeming with more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris. Steeped in toxins and slow to biodegrade, plastic is waste with dangerous staying power.
Every form of sea life, no matter how big or small, is threatened by our waste. Trash drifting through the ocean can easily cover and kill corals by blocking their access to sunlight. Too many sea turtles choke on plastic bags every year, mistaking the trash for jellyfish, their favorite snack. Sea birds suffocate on wrappers left by beach-goers. Unable to swim backwards, sharks and rays usually drown if entangled in abandoned fishing lines or nets. Our plastic waste even endangers the world’s ocean giants, killing more than 100,000 whales, walruses, and other marine mammals species each year. As it flows through global currents, marine debris also spreads destructive algae strains, invasive species, and pollutants.
Plastics are manufactured using toxic chemicals like flame retardants and BPA— many of which have been linked to major human health issues. Once in the ocean, plastic only attracts and absorbs more harmful pollutants, even DDT, PCB, and other banned toxins. Studies have found that a single plastic microbes can be one million times more toxic than the surrounding seawater. As sea life accidentally ingests our trash, these toxins make their way through the great oceanic food web, until they finally end up on our plates.
If we do not start cleaning up our mess, scientists predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The scale of marine contamination is so vast, no one is truly unaffected.