Plastic Pollution

Plastic is in most things we use - from food wrapping to car parts. It's easily transformed into any shape imaginable, incredibly durable and very cheap to produce. So why do we want to eradicate single use plastic?

A Plastic Ocean

  • About 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic had been produced by 2015 since the 1950s - that's around the weight of 1 billion elephants [1].
  • Only about 9% of this plastic has been recycled, 12% has been burned and the remaining 79% has ended up in landfills or the environment [1].
  • Up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enters the oceans every year [2] - the equivalent of a truck load every minute [3].
  • Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years [4].
  • There are approximately 51 trillion microscopic pieces of plastic in the environment, weighing 269,000 tons [5]. That is about 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy.
  • It's unclear how long it takes for a plastic bottle to degrade and estimates range from 450 years to never [10, 11]!
  • Around the world, nearly a million plastic bottles are sold every minute [13].
  • The largest market for plastics today is packaging materials. That type of rubbish now accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste generated globally - most of it never gets recycled or incinerated [10].
  • Each year, 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced [16] of which 40% is single-use [4, 10]: plastic we'll only use once before it's binned.

Plastic Road to the Big Blue

  • Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations [4]. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
  • Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than one-fifth of an inch across. These so-called micro-plastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, to the Mariana Trench [4].
  • It is difficult—if not impossible—to retrieve plastic waste from the ocean. Mechanical systems, such as Mr. Trash Wheel, a litter interceptor in Maryland’s Baltimore harbour, can be effective at picking up large pieces of plastic, such as foam cups and food containers, from inland waters. But once plastics break down into microplastics and drift through the water column in the open ocean, they are virtually impossible to recover [4].
  • Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all rubbish floating on the ocean's surface [15].
  • Plastic in the ocean slowly fragments into smaller and smaller pieces which eventually end up microscopically small [11] but never truly go away [12] .
  • Only 1% of marine litter floats, with the vast majority sinking to the sea floor [12].
  • Once plastic has found its way into the sea, it is caught up in one of the Earth’s 5 major currents, or gyres, and travels vast distances to the centre of these great whirlpools [7] causing large garbage patches.
  • The North Pacific Gyre alone is estimated to be twice the size of France [7]. Charles Moore, the oceanographer who discovered it has predicted that it will double in size in the next ten years if we don’t change our ways.
  • These plastic garbage patches are not giant islands of rubbish but instead have a low density, spread over vast distances, possibly 1.6 million square km (3 times the size of France), making any attempt at removing the rubbish incredibly difficult  [7].
  • In 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme estimated that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic [8]. That was over a decade ago.
  • There are five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans [5] – enough to circle the Earth over 400 times [6, 5].
  • Crustaceans tested at the ocean’s deepest point, the Mariana Trench, had ingested plastic [4, 9].

Animal Suffering

  • Some 700 species of marine animals have been reported so far to have eaten or become entangled in plastic [15].
  • Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms [4].
  • Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics [4].
  • Most of the deaths of animals are caused by entanglement or starvation. Seals, whales, turtles, and other animals are strangled by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings [4].
  • Plastics have been consumed by land-based animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals, in some cases causing death [4].
  • One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans [8].

Human Health Concerns

  • 36.5% of fish caught for human consumption in the English Channel now contains plastic [17].
  • In seawater plastic absorbs chemicals like PCB’s and DDT’s which have been linked to endocrine disruption and even some cancers, becoming more powerful as they work their way up the food chain [18].
  • Plastic microfibers have been found in municipal drinking water systems and drifting through the air [4].
  • Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93% of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical) [19].
  • Some of the compounds found in plastic have been found to have potential negative effects on human health.

How You Can Help

  • Choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and bottled water. Cloth bags and metal or glass reusable bottles are available locally at great prices.
  • Look at our shop for products you can directly replace single use plastic household items with. You will find many options save you money!
  • Refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws and other "disposable" plastics.
  • Carry reusable utensils in your purse, backpack or car to use at BBQ's, potlucks or take-out restaurants.
  • Look out for refill shops in your area where you can bring your own containers and fill up on all sorts such as food like nuts and muesli, shampoo, soap and cleaning detergent.
  • Educate others.
  • Set an example whether it's taking a mug to your local coffee shop or asking your local.
  • Search for plastic alternatives.
  • When plastic is the only option, look for recyclable options
  • Volunteer at clean up events.
  • Support petitions fighting plastic pollution.
  • Avoid single use throw away items as much as you can.
  • Ask takeaways, butchers, and grocery stores about non-plastic packaging, bags or food containers. They all exist and just casually mentioning it will make them start thinking about it.

Caution!

  • Be careful when reading "biodegradable", "degradable" and "compostable" on product descriptions. A lot of products on the market only fit these categories under certain conditions. At Tecorra we carefully review manufacturers before selling their products, and if there are conditions attached, we are very clear in the product description. 
  • Bioplastics aren't a solution. Whilst they offer some benefits over PLA plastic, they still have a lot of issues.

References

[1] Geyer, R., Jambeck, J.R., Law, K.L., 2017. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.
[2] Jambeck, J.R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T.R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., Law, K.L., 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768
[3]  Fela, J., 2018. Every minute of every day, the equivalent of one truckload of plastic enters the sea. https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/15882/every-minute-of-every-day-the-equivalent-of-one-truckload-of-plastic-enters-the-sea/
[
4] Parker, L., 2019. The world's plastic pollution crisis explained. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/
[
5] Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L.C.M, Carson, H.S., Thiel, M., Moore, C.J., Borerro, J.C., Galgani, F., Ryan, P.G., Reisser, J., 2014. Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111913
[
6] Bullock, S., 2018. Key facts about plastic pollution. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/key-facts-about-plastic-pollution/
[
7] The Ocean Cleanup https://theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/
[
8] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Facts and figures on marine pollution. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/ioc-oceans/focus-areas/rio-20-ocean/blueprint-for-the-future-we-want/marine-pollution/facts-and-figures-on-marine-pollution/
[
9] Jamieson, A.J., Malkocs, T., Piertney, S.B., Fujii, T., & Zhang, Z., 2017. Bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants in the deepest ocean fauna. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-016-0051
[
10] Parker, L., 2018. We made plastic. We depend on it. Now we're drowning in it. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-waste-pollution-trash-crisis/
[11] Barnes, D.K.A., Galgani, F., Thompson, R.C., Barlaz, M., 2009. Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments.
 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2873009/
[
12] Plastic Pollution - Facts and Figured. Surfers Against Sewage. https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/.
[13] Whitaker, H., 2019. How the plastic bottle went from convenience to curse. https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/environment-and-conservation/2019/08/how-plastic-bottle-went-miracle-container-despised-villain
[
14] Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F., Sainte-Rose, B., Aitken, J., Marthouse, R., Hajbane, S., Cunsolo, S., Schwarz, A., Levivier, A., Noble, K., Debeljak, P., Maral, H., Schoeneich-Argent, R., Brambini, R. & Reisser, J. , 2018. Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22939-w
[
15] Daly, N., 2018. 
For animals, plastic is turning the ocean into a minefield. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-animals-wildlife-impact-waste-pollution/
[
16] Giacovelli. C. et al. United Nations Environment Programme. Single-use plastics: A road-map for sustainability. https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf?isAllowed=y&sequence=1
[
17] Lushera, A.L., McHugh, M., Thompsona, R.C., 2013. Occurrence of microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of pelagic and demersal fish from the English Channel. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025326X12005668
[
18] Atlantic whale and dolphin foundation. https://www.whalenation.org/guiding.html
[
19] US Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019. Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/FourthReport_UpdatedTables_Volume1_Jan2019-508.pdf

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