Plastic waste in the world’s oceans is rising at alarming rate, concerning marine biologists and scientists alike with grim prospects regarding ocean life and pollution levels. Since the invention of plastic 75 years ago, it has become progressively prevalent in conventional marketplaces. Society disposes plastics on a daily basis, products like food packaging, grocery bags, and water bottles. It now represents a large fraction of waste generated.
Regrettably, plastic waste is polluting the oceans more than ever before. Inarguably, scientists state nearly all its waste is generated on land, then transferred to waterways and coastlines from loosely regulated waste depositing, having a dangerous effect on the health of water system, wildlife, and on humans. Over long periods of time, plastics degrade into minute, bite-size pieces that are incredibly easy for small animals to feed on. As well, the decay process of it makes it problematic for scientists to identify sources of pollution after it enters the ocean.
According to scientists, the best way in which to mitigate the detrimental effects to the environment they are seeing is to simply reduce the amount of said material put into the world’s oceans. Although they have known for years that plastics have been put into the ocean from all around the world, recently, according to scientists, the source of the majority of the pollution has been pinpointed to a small number of specified areas. As of today, a study has been released regarding a new estimate of the transfer of plastics from land to bodies of water from large populations located within 50 kilometers of coastlines, worldwide.
The scientists leading the new study have distinguished three categories which can assist in providing information and evidence about the aforementioned material’s pollution in the world’s oceans: (1) the annual mass of generated waste per capita; (2) percentage of waste as plastic; and (3) the percentage of the waste with the potential to be discarded and enter waterways, making its way to the ocean as debris.
Scientists say that current estimates regarding their study of waste generated in 2012 was 2.5 billion metric tons (MT), among 192 coastal nations, making up nearly 93 percent of the world’s population. Roughly 11 percent of this waste (275 million MT) is solid plastics. To surmise a good estimate of coastal waste, scientists believe that waste tracked with the production of plastic resin, then scaled results to populations residing within 50 miles of a coastal area. They found that in 2010, 99.5 million MT of waste was produced in the aforesaid areas, resulting in 4.8 to million MT of waste entering the ocean. According to them, that is between 1.7 to 4.6 percent of the totality of the material’s waste from the nations of the world.
The study’s findings mean this is much greater than anything previously reported regarding pollution of solids. Unfortunately, scientists believe this number is most likely a low-ball estimate, representing only the types that are buoyant and able to be seen and detected, accounting for only half of what is produced in North America.
While this is an alarming scenario, the estimate serves as a good point from which to start in understanding how this waste infiltrates and harms the integrity of oceans and the marine life, therein. Therefore, scientists state this alarming rate increase of plastic pollution needs to be stopped.
By: Alex Lemieux
Picture: Cesar Harada – Flickr License