Despite years of warnings, numerous studies, and shocking images, the volume of plastic now found in the oceans of the planet have reached unprecedented levels. Is there anything we can do to turn the tide, or is it too late?
Shockingly, the latest study on plastic levels in our oceans reveals a mass of 2.3 million tons of plastic has invaded the planet’s water, made up of a staggering 171 trillion microplastic particles. While decades ago we looked to the sky and saw clouds of pollution created by burning fossil fuels, car exhausts and industrial smoke, beneath the waves a new “plastic smog” has been growing. And the news gets worse – the increase in plastic particles has been increasing at an unprecedented rate since 2005.
This recent study was based on water data collected over a 40 year period from over 12,000 monitoring stations around the world. Eight to ten million tons of general plastic waste is dumped in the oceans each year, but the microplastics (fine particles) the make up the plastic smog are creating a much bigger problem. They’re easily ingested by marine life, but also seep toxic chemicals into the water, changing the chemical nature of the water and altering the fragile ecosystem of marine life. And the volume of plastic waste is likely to increase by 2.6 times by 2040 unless something drastic is done to change our obsession with plastic and the careless way we discard it. While “fishing” plastic out of the oceans might help reduce the level of larger plastic waste, it doesn’t make much of a difference to the microplastic pollution.
“It is much higher than previous estimates,” study co-author Lisa Erdle, director of science and innovation at the environmental non-profit 5 Gyres explained. “We clearly need some solutions that have teeth.” Meaning we have no alternative but to limit and reduce the amount of plastic we produce and waste.
“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,” said study co-author Marcus Eriksen.
As well as microplastics, it seems that the amount of sewage in the ocean has also reached an unhealthy level. In an article in ‘Environmental Sciences & Technology,’ it was found that the spray from the ocean around San Diego’s Imperial Beach contained sewage bacteria, effecting the air people in the area breathed and increasing the risk of E Coli, Salmonella, and Norovirus.
When will we take action to prevent our careless disregard for the planet we call home?