When it comes to plastic pollution, how are we doing? We recently found two great websites that examine the environmental impacts of plastic: Planet or Plastic? is a National Geographic series on the global plastic trash crisis; The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit devoted to technologies that rid the oceans of plastic. Here's a snapshot of the plastic pollution situation, and some actions we can all take now.

Realities

  • Between Hawaii and California, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GRGP) covers 1.6
    million square kilometers, an area twice the surface of Texas or three times France.
  • 5 giant gyres of plastic trash exist in the world’s oceans.
  • An estimated 1.8 trillion plastic pieces float in the GRGP (250 pieces for every human in
    the world); more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic float in our oceans.
  • The GRGP surface has 180x more plastic than marine life.
  • Nearby sea turtles can have up to 74% of their diets composed of ocean plastics. Laysan
    albatross chicks from Hawaii have around 45% of their wet mass composed of plastics.
  • On some Hawaiian beaches nearly 15% of the sand is plastic.
  • The time it takes plastic to biodegrade is unclear, with estimates between 450 to 1000s of
    years.
  • Of the estimated 9.2 billion tons of plastic in the world, 6.9 billion tons have become
    waste.
  • World plastic production has increased exponentially over the past 65 years: 2.3 million
    tons in 1950; 162 million tons in 1993; and 448 million in 2015.
  • Less than a fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally. In the U.S. it’s less than 10 percent.
  • Nearly half of all plastic waste is single-use packaging material.
  • Last year Coca-Cola made 128 billion plastic bottles.


Possibilities

  • The Ocean Cleanup estimates a full-scale deployment of their systems could clean up
    50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years.
  • The Ocean Cleanup, based in the Netherlands, launches their first cleanup during the
    summer of 2018 from their first assembly station in Alameda, California.
  • Each of us can reduce the use of single use plastics by opting for the use of reusable
    alternatives.
  • Globally, 18 percent of plastic is recycled, up from nearly zero in 1980.
  • Wax and meal worms can eat plastic and turn it into compost.
  • Newly discovered micro-organisms can dramatically decrease the time it takes for plastic
    to biodegrade.
  • Some bioplastics made from renewable resources can biodegrade.
  • The rubber tree is a sustainable source for plastic production.
  • Increasingly, governments (Kenya, France, California) are developing policies that ban
    the use of disposable plastics.
  • Hundreds of communities are embracing a “zero-waste” movement.
  • In response to public pressure, some multi-nationals (Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever)
    have pledged to convert to reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging.

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Wow, these statistics are sobering. Thanks for a great article!

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