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The Growing Problem Of Plastic In The Ocean

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Plastic In The Ocean

In just over three decades, scientists estimate there will be more pounds of plastic in the world’s oceans than there are pounds of fish. There are places in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where the plastics are so heavily concentrated that humans can walk on it, as though it were a man-made plastic island of some sort. What’s more, that plastic is easily making its way into our food chain and is already suspected to be regularly consumed by humans. Plastic in the ocean is a problem for all of us, and unless we act quickly there will be no turning back.

Where Does All This Plastic Come From?

Plastic was invented in 1907 but did not become widely used or popular until several decades later. Today it almost seems impossible to live without it – it’s a major component of our vehicles, our homes, and even our clothing. Even toys and books for children are largely made of plastic.

Every year we produce more than 320 million metric tons of plastic and every year nearly 2.5 million metric tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans. Once there, naturally occurring ocean currents carry the plastic to gyres where they concentrate. The first gyre was discovered in 1997 in the Pacific Ocean, and already it was roughly the size of Texas. Today it’s known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and it has grown to twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.

Unfortunately, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not alone. There are now two known major garbage patches in the Pacific and a total of five major garbage patches throughout the world’s oceans, and there are several more forming along trade routes.

What Impact Does The Plastic Have?

Plastic doesn’t biodegrade under typical conditions, but in the ocean, plastic does break down. Mechanical action caused by friction and water currents can break down plastics, as can things like ultraviolet light from the sun, oxidation, bacteria, and heat. What’s left is even worse than the patches of large plastic bottles, shopping bags, fishing nets, and more – all of these things break down into microplastics that are even harder to get out of the ocean once they are in there.

Several whales have made headlines in recent months for washing ashore dead or dying with bellies full of plastic bags, while we also often see images of sea turtles whose growth was inhibited or which became malformed by getting stuck in plastic rings. What we don’t see images of is all the fish we consume with microplastics or plastic residues embedded within their flesh after it has worked its way up the food chain.

Cleaning It Up Will Be A Challenge

Getting all this plastic out of the ocean is going to be a Herculean task, but the first step is to stop those 2.41 million metric tons of plastic that get in the oceans each year from getting there. Stemming the tide of plastic waste is going to involve some serious changes on the part of consumers, and already many governments around the world at the national or at the local level have enacted bans on plastic shopping bags, one of the most wasteful and harmful single-use items ever invented. Additionally, many hospitality folks such as bartenders are lobbying for the end of single-use plastic drinking straws.

Doing away with the throwaway culture of single-use everything is the first step toward stemming the tide of plastic washing into the ocean. Cleanup is the next step. Learn more about plastic in the oceans from this infographic.

Plastic In The Ocean

Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency , based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019. Follow Brian Wallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.

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