One garbage truck load per minute. Nineteen million pounds per year. That’s how much plastic waste is currently being dumped into the ocean, according to numerous experts and researchers. If nothing is done to reverse this trend, those figures are set to double within a decade. It’s an issue that is causing worldwide concern about the impact on over 700 ocean species, according Ocean Conservancy.
If you think about it, the rate at which plastic waste is filling the oceans is particularly alarming considering it began only a few decades ago. Invented at the beginning of the 20th century, plastic only became popular as a packaging and manufacturing material beginning in the 1950s. That means our oceans have gone from zero to nineteen million pounds per year of plastic in less than seven decades. Compare that just to the estimated 200,000 years or so that humans have lived on this planet, and you’ll see how staggering that rate of pollution is.
Why Plastic Is Dangerous
Due to its inexpensive cost to produce and its versatility across many applications (from grocery bags to toys to electronics parts), one might argue plastic is the official substance of modern times. Indeed, we’re hard pressed to find anything we use today that doesn’t contain plastic. As we manufacture more and more of the stuff, it makes its way into our landfills, and eventually our oceans.
That wouldn’t be so bad if it decomposed like other substances. The problem is—plastic never really goes away. We keep making more of it, but plastic never fully disintegrates. It simply breaks down into smaller and smaller bits to become microplastics. Thus, not only are our oceans filling with plastic trash, but the water itself is becoming murky with microscopic plastic particles that some are terming “plastic smog.” So while sea turtles swallow plastic bags thinking they are jellyfish, and while many other species eat plastic pieces mistaking them for food—much of life in the ocean is absorbing or ingesting tiny particles that simply accumulate in the gut and possibly make them sick.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Considering how much food humankind derives from the ocean, we have all the more reason to be concerned. A recent study determined that 25 percent of fish purchased from fish markets in the second half of 2014 in the U.S. and Indonesia had plastic in their system. We’re also seeing increased amounts of microplastics in lobsters, mussels and oysters—all of which humans consume regularly. Health experts believe these trends could eventually cause increased risks for reproductive issues, cancer, liver problems and more.
The Good News—If We Take Action…
As quickly as plastic waste is currently accumulating, experts believe the trend can also be reversed fairly quickly through conscientious efforts to reuse or recycle plastic waste. An organization called Ocean Cleanup estimates its efforts could reduce plastic pollution in a region of ocean known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” by 50 percent within 5 years. There is also a greater push for awareness on the part of corporations, cities and nations across the globe. As more restaurants move to stop using plastic straws, cities like San Francisco are banning the use of plastic grocery bags.
Another way to reduce plastic waste is by limiting e-waste through the reuse and recycling of electronics containing plastic parts. Currently, the United States produces approximately 9.4 million tons of e-waste each year, but only 12.5 percent of this waste gets recycled. Many of these items (e.g., old computers, televisions, cellphones, etc.) could be reused if properly decommissioned, or the plastic and other materials harvested could be recycled into other products.
Plastic waste is a growing problem, but it’s not yet irreversible. A little effort goes a long way. To learn more about how to incorporate sustainable e-cycling into your company’s business strategy, contact us today.