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66 FACTS ABOUT OCEAN POLLUTION TO INSPIRE ACTION

Our oceans. The backbone of life on planet Earth. Beautiful yet mysterious, fierce whilst calm. Covering 70% of our planet (we’re called the blue planet for a reason!) our oceans are home to some 200,000 species (80% of the oceans remains unmapped and unexplored, with millions still a mystery), with millions more relying on it for their very survival. Yet despite their importance we have seen a devastating decline in the health of our oceans due to ocean pollution over recent years.

The last few decades of human activity have had huge ramifications on our big blue. With ocean pollution being a direct result of our lifestyles and behaviours. So what is it exactly? I’m sure most of us have a pretty good idea, but basically it’s anything that may cause harm to the wellbeing of the ocean. Any substance or contaminant that doesn’t belong there. Plastic, oil, chemicals, waste and even noise. Although this is pretty obvious, what’s not so cut and dry is the general understanding of the degree to which these materials are causing dramatic harm. Throughout this piece, we’ll be dropping 66 facts, that we hope will make you sit up, take notice, and do something about it!

 

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF OCEAN POLLUTION?

 

Rubbish in all its forms is flooding our oceans. We see it, we experience it. Who hasn’t walked along a beach somewhere in the world and seen pieces of plastic alongside shells littering the shoreline? Unfortunately, this is our new reality. Single use packaging has exploded over the past 50 years, which has led to an overflow of waste like never seen before. Unfortunately, the cheapest materials to produce are also the most damaging to our environment. But surely if we dispose of this packaging correctly, it goes off to landfill or recycling plants and that’s the end of it? Wrong!

The amount of litter that sadly bypasses this process is considerable, even in developed countries. Garbage typically finds its way into the ocean via three routes:

  1. It is directly dumped in the ocean.
  2. It is blown or washed into gutters and rivers from trucks or landfill and eventually finds its way into the ocean.
  3. It is washed directly down the drain as is the case of microplastics and contaminants.

Our oceans. The backbone of life on planet Earth. Beautiful yet mysterious, fierce whilst calm. Covering 70% of our planet (we’re called the blue planet for a reason!) our oceans are home to some 200,000 species (80% of the oceans remains unmapped and unexplored, with millions still a mystery), with millions more relying on it for their very survival. Yet despite their importance we have seen a devastating decline in the health of our oceans due to ocean pollution over recent years.

The last few decades of human activity have had huge ramifications on our big blue. With ocean pollution being a direct result of our lifestyles and behaviours. So what is it exactly? I’m sure most of us have a pretty good idea, but basically it’s anything that may cause harm to the wellbeing of the ocean. Any substance or contaminant that doesn’t belong there. Plastic, oil, chemicals, waste and even noise. Although this is pretty obvious, what’s not so cut and dry is the general understanding of the degree to which these materials are causing dramatic harm. Throughout this piece, we’ll be dropping 66 facts, that we hope will make you sit up, take notice, and do something about it!

 

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF OCEAN POLLUTION?

 

Rubbish in all its forms is flooding our oceans. We see it, we experience it. Who hasn’t walked along a beach somewhere in the world and seen pieces of plastic alongside shells littering the shoreline? Unfortunately, this is our new reality. Single use packaging has exploded over the past 50 years, which has led to an overflow of waste like never seen before. Unfortunately, the cheapest materials to produce are also the most damaging to our environment. But surely if we dispose of this packaging correctly, it goes off to landfill or recycling plants and that’s the end of it? Wrong!

The amount of litter that sadly bypasses this process is considerable, even in developed countries. Garbage typically finds its way into the ocean via three routes:

  1. It is directly dumped in the ocean.
  2. It is blown or washed into gutters and rivers from trucks or landfill and eventually finds its way into the ocean.
  3. It is washed directly down the drain as is the case of microplastics and contaminants.

So let’s look at the facts, where does ocean pollution come from?

FACT 1.

80% of marine debris comes from land.

FACT 2.

The remaining 20% comes from ocean sources, like cargo ships, cruise ships or commercial fishing ships.

FACT 3.

The majority of ocean pollution has only existed for the past 60 years.

FACT 4.

The U.S. generates around 730kgs per person per year. 5% of the world’s people generate 40% of the world’s waste! This wastefulness is endemic of most developed countries.

 

But what about recycling? Surely that has an impact on reducing the waste going into landfill. Whilst developed countries typically have advanced waste management and recycling systems in place, a lot of developing countries do not.

FACT 5.

Germany is the best recycler, recycling 56.1% of its municipal waste in 2017. Good job Germany!

FACT 6.

The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but only 30% is actually recycled.

FACT 7.

How plastic waste is managed determines its risk of entering the ocean. Poor waste management across many middle and low-income countries means they dominate the sources of global ocean plastic pollution.

FACT 8.

China produces around 3.5 million metric tonnes of marine waste each year.

FACT 9.

The U.S. generates roughly 110,000 metric tonnes of marine waste each year, by comparison. They rank 12th globally.

FACT 10.

China and Indonesia combined contributed one-third of the total ocean pollution. Together they are the world’s biggest contributors to ocean plastic pollution.

FACT 11.

90% of the plastic polluting our oceans comes from just 10 rivers.

FACT 12.

The River Yangtze in China is the top polluting river globally, contributing over 4% of annual ocean plastic pollution.

Well, I recycle, especially plastic so that’s all good, right? Again, not quite.

FACT 13.

Only about 9% of all plastic ever made has likely been recycled.

FACT 14.

Only about 12% of plastic ever made has been incinerated.

FACT 15.

The excess 79% of plastic ends up in landfills and potentially the ocean.

Where is all this plastic coming from?

FACT 16.

Since the 50s, annual production of plastic has increased nearly 200-fold to 381 million tonnes in 2015. For context, this is roughly equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world’s population.

FACT 17.

Unlike other materials, plastic is strong, durable and ridiculously cheap to produce. It’s no wonder it has gained such adoption.

FACT 18.

1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.

FACT 19.

9.6 million plastic bags are used globally every minute.

FACT 20.

The average time that a plastic bag is used for is… twelve minutes.

FACT 21.

The average American consumes 167 plastic water bottles each year, but only recycles 25%.

And what’s worse…

FACT 22.

Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).

FACT 23.

Plastics actually don’t biodegrade in the typical sense. They photodegrade from the sun or they break into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics.

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF OCEAN POLLUTION?

As you’ve probably guessed, plastic makes up the majority of ocean pollution. But it isn’t the soul culprit corrupting our oceans. Irresponsible waste disposal, leaks and chemical dumping are also other major contributors to the problem. The unifying factor in all these sources is human activity.

FACT 24.

The majority of the garbage that enters the ocean each year is plastic. Oil spills, chemical discharges, raw sewage overflow from water treatment plants, hard waste, overflow from landfill, and stormwater and agricultural runoffs make up most of the remainder.

 

“The world’s oceans are turning into a ‘toxic soup’ of industrial waste and plastic, putting the future of humanity at risk.”

Sir David Attenborough

PLASTIC POLLUTION

Plastic is by far and away, enemy number one when it comes to ocean pollution. Due to its overabundance in packaging and the length of time it takes to break down, it is no wonder it is having a huge impact on the health of the world’s largest ecosystem.

FACT 25.

Single-use plastic bags, water bottles, drinking straws, cigarette butts and food containers are the most common forms of plastic pollution.

FACT 26.

8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean each year.

FACT 27.

There is believed to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean.

FACT 28.

Plastic can stay in the sea for a millennium.

FACT 29.

More than half of the plastic that enters the ocean is less dense than the water, meaning that it will not sink once it enters the sea.

FACT 30.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is one of the if not the biggest accumulation of plastic waste in our oceans. It covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometres, which is nearly a fifth of the size of Australia!

FACT 31.

Approximately every single minute, one truckload of plastic enters the sea.

FACT 32.

The amount of plastic in the ocean could lap the world 400 times.

FACT 33.

Plastics cause more than 80% of the negative effects on animals associated with ocean trash.

FACT 34.

In some of the most polluted sections of the ocean, plastic outweighs plankton six times.

FACT 35.

Studies have found animals in the deepest parts of the ocean have ingested plastic.

FACT 36.

At the current moment there is an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic trash in the oceans.

FACT 37.

It is estimated that the amount of plastic in the sea could triple by 2025.

FACT 38.

By the year 2050, it is forecast that by weight there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

WHAT ABOUT MICROPLASTIC?

Plastic pollution comes in all shapes and sizes. However, those bits that are less than five millimetres in length (about the size of an ant) are called microplastics.

Microplastics come from a couple of sources. The bulk of microplastic actually starts off that way as either microbeads (found mostly in exfoliating products) or synthetic fibres like nylon or polyester (which shed from our clothes in the wash). Most of which are invisible to the naked eye! They easily pass through sewage treatment plants that do not necessarily have the appropriate sized filters to catch them. The remainder of microplastic is created as larger plastic breaks down over time, fragmenting into millions of smaller pieces.

FACT 39.

Research estimates there could be anywhere from 15 – 51 trillion particles of microplastic in our oceans.

FACT 40.

There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way.

FACT 41.

The total weight of microplastic in the oceans could be anywhere from 92 – 235 million kgs.

Microplastics are extremely damaging as they stay in our oceans for a long time, getting passed through animals as they decompose onto others. Microplastics are found in animals of all sizes from plankton to whales.

OIL POLLUTION

Although nowhere near at the level of plastic pollution, oil pollution from oil spills (from boats and rigs) and leakages (from cars, trucks, planes and boats) has significant impact on our oceans. Oils come in two main forms, light or heavy. Most fuels are considered light, whilst heavy oils are used to fuel large ships and are what oil rigs mine. The majority of oil floats, therefore its impact is mainly on creatures that live on the surface of the water. Oil alters animals (particular those with fur or feathers) ability to regulate warmth, causes suffocation and longer term poses serious health risks in the form of tumours and cancers.

Heavy oils, however, have even more of an impact as they take a lot longer to evaporate. When heavy oil pools, it can block sunlight, which impacts animals below the surface, whilst disrupting photosynthesis killing marine plants.

FACT 42.

Oil spills contribute 12% of the oil in the ocean.

FACT 43.

36% of the oil comes from runoff sources from cities and companies.

FACT 44.

The worst oil spill in history occurred at the BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It is believed to have spilt 148 million litres of oil into the ocean.

OTHER POLLUTION

The list of other ocean pollution is long and varied. From trash dumped directly into the ocean, to chemical runoff. Even sunscreen washing off our skin and noise pollution from boats have considerable impact on the health of our oceans.

FACT 45.

Abandoned fishing gear or ‘ghost’ fishing gear accounts for 640,000 tonnes being left in our oceans every year!

FACT 46.

Until the mid 1970s it was legal to dump industrial waste including nuclear material into oceans, and some illegal dumping still continues.

FACT 47.

Between 4,000 – 6,000 tonnes of sunscreen coats coral reef areas around the world each year. Toxic effects occur at a concentration of 62 parts per trillion. That’s the equivalent of a drop of water in an Olympic swimming pool.

FACT 48.

Ocean noise pollution from cargo ships, commercial vessels, containers and tankers make high-frequency noises that are a pollution of sorts for marine wildlife as it disrupts their habitat.

HOW DOES POLLUTION IMPACT THE OCEAN?

 

Ocean pollution is a huge problem as it causes many side effects to our marine wildlife, our water sources and the overall health of the planet. But plastic pollution does the most damage. Plastic is consumed by animals, with the toxins in the plastic absorbed. As the food chain permits, animals are consumed by other animals and are also consumed by humans. These toxins are passed throughout the food chain with devastating effects.

FACT 49.

Animals eat plastic, which fills their stomachs. They cannot digest it obviously, with the result intestinal injury or starvation (as they feel full). Fish and other marine life often can’t define the difference between plastic and food.

FACT 50.

Around 100,000 marine animals die every year as a direct result of plastic ingestion and entrapment.

FACT 51.

Fish in the North Pacific Ocean consume around 12,000 to 24,000 tonnes of plastic each year.

FACT 52.

Plastic depletes the oxygen content in water, as it degrades. Lower ocean oxygen levels put at risk larger marine animals like whales, turtles, sharks, dolphins and penguins.

FACT 53.

The CSIRO estimate that about half of the world’s sea turtles have plastic in their guts.

FACT 54.

Some species of fish and shellfish have been found to contain toxic chemicals at concentrations as high as 9 million times that of the water in which they swim.

FACT 55.

Plastic ingestion is highest amongst smaller animals at the bottom of the food chain. This plastic is transferred up the food chain to bigger fish, marine mammals and human seafood eaters.

FACT 56.

Killer whales, one of the top ocean predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Even worse, mothers pass on very high doses of poisonous chemicals via their milk to their newborn calves.

FACT 57.

The average human eats around 70,000 pieces of microplastic each year.

FACT 58.

Plastic pollution is killing plankton, the building blocks of all other ocean life.

FACT 59.

As plastic breaks down due to its exposure to sunlight and salt water it produces toxic molecules and other pollutants.

FACT 60.

Dead zones in the oceans that have been created by pollution making areas impossible for life to live. There are about 500 dead zones in the ocean.

FACT 61.

Ocean pollution causes more than 1 million seabirds die each year.

FACT 62.

An estimated two-thirds of aquatic life is considered endangered, largely due to plastic and chemical waste.

FACT 63.

Millions of marine animals are mutilated and killed by fishing gear discarded in our oceans.

FACT 64.

Chemicals polluting waters cause serious health problems including hormone problems, kidney damage, nervous system damage and reproductive issues for not only marine life but humans too.

WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

Well quite simply, if we destroy our oceans, we destroy ourselves. It’s easy to separate ourselves from them, particularly those of us that don’t live by the coast. However, the ocean is the largest ecosystem on Earth, with our security relying on it in more ways than most of us realise. Not only does ocean pollution serve to devastate all that live within it, everything on this planet, including humans will suffer if we don’t commit to an immediate and concerted effort to protect our beautiful blue.

FACT 65.

50 – 85% of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere comes from the ocean. Or more specifically the phytoplankton in our oceans. It literally helps us breathe!

FACT 66.

More than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food. In 20 years, this number could double to 7 billion.

Our actions as humans are contributing to the degradation of our oceans, but we can do something about it!

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

Although some of these facts might frighten and alarm, it’s only through awareness and understanding that we’re going to be able to do something to fix the problem. It’s well and truly time to make a change. Before we get into some solutions to the problem, we wanted to flag some faux-solutions that are sometimes floated as fixes.

Bioplastics – often billed as a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastic, research has shown that not all bioplastics are as green as they seem. Though often marketed as compostable or biodegradable, some of these products require very specific conditions to break down, and if treated normally behave very similar to traditional plastic. They also do not solve the overpackaging, throwaway culture that creates the issue of ocean pollution in the first place.  

Incineration – although not widely considered in developed countries this is sometimes slated in developing countries as an alternative method of waste disposal. Whilst potentially reducing ocean pollution, incineration of waste only creates atmospheric pollution and again does not address the overproduction / overuse problem.

The above measures are certainly not the answer, but there are plenty of other solutions to the problem. Whilst companies, governments, scientists and not-for-profits play a key role, solving the problem requires all of us.

“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteaa

REDUCING PLASTIC CONSUMPTION

Although removing ocean plastic is incredibly important, it does not address the root of the issue – plastic manufacturing and consumption. As consumers (particularly those of us in developed countries) we have a critical role to play in impacting plastic pollution. Reducing our plastic consumption and changing our purchasing habits will put pressure on companies to adopt more sustainable practices to meet the changes in consumer demand. By simply refusing single-use plastic cups, straws, plastic bags and packaging you are saying no to single-use plastics. The more people saying no, the quicker businesses will have to adjust to meet these changes in consumer demand.

Now we’re not suggesting you to go plastic free overnight. As Anne Marie Bonneau says it “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” We couldn’t agree more. Look for products that are plastic free or low plastic alternatives (like our Face Mask ) and trade across to them. Another really great starting point is to choose one product, like your morning takeaway coffee. 16 billion disposable coffee cups are produced globally every year! If each of us reduced our usage by 75% by using reusable cups like Frank Green, that’d save 12 billion cups from potentially ending up in the ocean! 

 

REUSE & RECYCLE

 

So many of the products we consume are readily and easily recycled, but unfortunately aren’t. A couple of minutes of extra effort at the point of disposal could save tonnes upon tonnes of needless waste as well as considerable energy. The most important things to save from landfill include, aluminium, which is not only 100% recyclable, but can be recycled over and over again, without losing quality, as can glass jars. Newspapers, magazines, mixed paper, and corrugated cardboard are all also easily recycled but often end up in landfill.

Although we mentioned earlier that only 9% of the plastic that has ever been produced has been recycled, most of it can be and should be – especially polyethylene terephthalate or PET bottles. So make sure you put plastic in the recycling bin. However, always check the recycling requirements in your local area as not all plastic can be recycled and you need to get the right information regarding what is and is not recyclable in your area. For things that can’t be recycled locally, there are plenty of companies that can recycle your trickier items to prevent them from ending up in the landfill. Companies such as TerraCycle, Redcycle and Plastic Forests support the gap between commercial and personal recycling for more complicated processing of commonly disposed recyclables.

DEVELOPING VIABLE PLASTIC ALTERNATIVES

The creation of plastic was a marvel of modern science. Unfortunately, no one at the time could have predicted how widely it would be adopted nor the impact it would have on our environment. With the same creativity and innovation that fostered its creation, we have high hopes that modern science will be able to develop smarter products that factor in our ecosystem during and post usage. Many innovative alternatives are in varying stages of development including things such as seaweed, milk and sugarcane plastics, mushroom packaging and wood pulp cellophane and glues. However, as we established earlier, we need to tread carefully in our haste to develop alternatives to traditional plastics, and be sure that we understand the potential impacts of these new products before proceeding with mass market roll out.

“It took centuries to create the mess. No magic bullet will solve it overnight. It will take time, creativity, and hard work.”

John Warner

SUPPORT PLASTIC CLEAN-UP PROJECTS

There are some incredible projects out there tackling the issue head on. You can do your part by helping to support initiatives that are working to reduce the plastic problem and improve our oceans. Although there are many amazing companies and not-for-profits helping address the problem, here are a few of our favourites.

THE SEA BIN PROJECT

The Sea Bin Project’s mission is “to live in a world without the need for Seabins.” The business started with a simple premise “If we can have rubbish bins on land then why not have them in the ocean?”

Their goal is to get our waterways free from litter. Seabins are an innovative Australian technology that work to remove as much litter from waterways as possible.

Each Seabin has the ability to capture 90,000 plastic bags, 35,700 disposable cups, 16,500 plastic bottles and 166,500 plastic utensils each year! At the time of writing this Seabin has captured a total of 114,916 kilograms of ocean litter.

Full disclosure, we donate 5% of our Revenue to the Sea Bin Foundation. But we’re not playing favourites, just supporting a fellow Aussie business.

THE OCEAN CLEANUP

The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization, developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. They use their technology to determine and model sea currents to find and clean up the largest deposits of ocean plastic. The organisation estimates that in five years they will be able to cleanup half of the GPGP.

The Ocean Cleanup focuses on the ocean currents called gyres with which plastic gets caught. Overtime circulating and breaking into microplastics. The collected plastics are brought on land and recycled, with the recycled materials sold to B2C companies. The money made helps to fund the organisation.

PARLEY

Parley works with major brands, creators, thinkers and leaders to help reduce plastic usage and develop alternative solutions for the future that can replace it.

Parley’s AIR strategy revolves around three key pillars. Avoid. Intercept. Redesign. Through awareness campaigns, cleanup programs, and recycling initiatives, Parley helps to alleviate the short term threats to our oceans and reduce the usage of virgin plastic in product design. On top of this Parley operates an extensive research and development program to invent plastic alternatives and to establish new industry standards.

TWO HANDS PROJECT

The Two Hands Project was founded on a simple premise, “take 30 Minutes and your two hands to clean up your world anytime, anywhere.” This simple philosophy encourages collaboration and to get your hands dirty to help the planet. The initiative focuses on showcasing your impact through social media, and provides an attainable way for all of us to make a small impact on the problem. What can you do with your two hands?

TAKE 3 FOR THE SEA

Similarly to the two hands project, Take 3 for the Sea encourages people to simply “take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, waterways or… anywhere and you have made a difference.”

The organisation encourages a global movement for people to connect with the planet and the need to support its wellbeing. Take 3 has collected 10 million pieces of rubbish annually. With participants in 129 countries and 300,000 people educated.

They focus their strategy on their own philosophy –  T.H.R.E.E. Take action, Hands-on, Research, Education, Evolve.

SPREAD THE WORD

The more people that know about the issue, the quicker we can start doing something. Get involved and help educate others about the problem! A really easy way to do this is to start by sharing this article with your friends and family!

“Far and away, the greatest threat to the ocean, and thus to ourselves, is ignorance. But we can do something about that.”

Sylvia Earle

Another good way to make your voice heard is to keep an eye out for petitions (normally from the likes of Greenpeace and other similar groups) lobbying governments to enforce regulations around reducing waste. It normally takes less than a few minutes to put your name down and show your support. We also need to acknowledge and applaud proactive action, like Hobart banning single-use plastic.

So there you have it. Ocean pollution is a serious problem, and something that every single one of us needs to give a f%#k about. However, despite the current mess, we’re hopeful about the future and think that together we can eradicate ocean pollution and fix the problem for good!

Kelp & Co. IO Pty. Ltd. © 2019. All rights reserved. Website by KnowGood Digital.

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