Plastic as we know it, has only really been around since mid-way through the 20th century but in that time it has made its way into every part of our daily lives. From clothing to cuisine, its abundance has certainly been hard to avoid.
Since the 1950s we have produced 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic which, to put into context, is the equivalent of 25,000 Empire State buildings or 1 billion elephants! Of this, it is estimated that only 10% has ever been recycled with 80% ending up in landfills or the natural environment and the final 10% being incinerated.
This is having an extremely adverse effect on our ecosystem, particularly our seas. Each year, 8 million tonnes of plastic makes its way into the oceans and by 2050, it is estimated that plastic will outnumber fish.
So, how is all this plastic pollution affecting our environment? Not only are there risks for the safety and health of marine animals, there are also a number of health and economic implications for humans as well.
Plastic poses a number of dangers for our sea animals which can pose serious threats to their health and existence. For example, turtles are unable to distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish which make up a significant part of their diet.
Sadly, this is the case for a number of marine animals. A study conducted by Plymouth University found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish. This can ultimately lead to malnutrition or starvation.
Added to this, plastic waste, particularly discarded nets, carry a number of entanglement risks for animals who swim into them and then cannot extract themselves. Larger pieces of plastic can also be fatal for sea birds and whales who ingest them.
If plastic degrades to pieces small enough to pass through the stomach of marine life, it is inevitable that it will contaminate our own food chain which may have harmful consequences due to the toxicity. Shellfish help to naturally filter and purify our seas but a recent study found that all wild and shop-bought mussels in the UK ingested plastics. These results show that plastic consumption by those eating seafood is more common than we think.
Plastic pollution is also extremely costly for our economy, with the UN estimating a financial cost of $13 billion per year. Beach clean ups, financial losses to our fishing industry as well as a decline in coastal tourism all have an economic effect on our society.
How can you help?
- Always take your rubbish home with you from the beach
- Take part in a 2-minute beach clean near you
- Reduce your everyday single-use plastic consumption. Check out our article ‘7 Ways to Reduce your Plastic Waste’ for our practical tips to make a difference.