Trash pollution in the ocean – Let’s clean it up

Trash pollution in the ocean – Let’s clean it up

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Ocean Water Pollution Facts

Many people mistakenly assume that the oceans are so large that pollution will not have any major effect on them. Pollution happens on a large scale, but most people only think of their own habits. If you think about the amount of trash, recycling and litter that you produce all by yourself, and then multiply it by the six billion other people on the planet, that should give you some idea of how much trash and litter there really is in the world. In addition to everyday consumption causing trash and litter (even if it’s accidental), there are major catastrophes, such as oil spills and tsunamis that pile onto the issue.

Plastic Pollution

To help you think about pollution in the ocean, here are five ocean water pollution facts that might startle you:

  1. Oil is the biggest problem, causing the most deterioration of our ocean habitats. Only a small percent of oil pollution, about 12%, comes from oils spills. The rest comes from drainage off of the land.
  2. Oil is not the only pollution that makes its way from land to ocean, in fact, the vast majority of pollution in the ocean is from chemical (toxic waste, oil, and others) and trash that started out on land, with no intent of ever winding up off-shore.
  3. Fertilizer and sewage runoff disrupt the natural balance of organic materials in the ocean. This can deplete food sources, or cause an over abundance of algae that can lead to a reduction of oxygen in the water. Both of these results can cause major disruptions in habitat and species survival.
  4. Before the 1970’s it was common practice to dump hazardous waste into the ocean, with the idea that the large amount of water would sufficiently dilute the toxins
  5. The smallest creatures, at the bottom of the food chain, often consume toxic chemicals, plastic, and other waste. Those creatures are then consumed by larger and larger creatures, eventually even humans.

Ocean Oil Spill

Plastic Pollution in the Oceans

While it is important to address all of the pollution issues in the oceans and the rest of the planet, I will focus on the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean. We all contribute to the plastic pollution problem, whether we realize it or not!

The problem of plastic in the ocean was identified in the mid-late 1980s and has shown a dramatic increase since that time. It is thought that about 8 million tons of plastic make their way into the ocean each year. Most of this comes not from direct litter or pollution, but from trash carried from landfills by wind and rain. As I mentioned earlier, the real problem is waste moving from land to the ocean. Imagine for just a moment that you put all of your plastic bottles into the recycling bin and sent them off on the truck for processing. You did your part, right? But what if one of those bottles bounces out of the truck and makes its way into a storm drain, or a nearby river or stream? What then? Well, then it may very well wind up in the ocean! This happens far more often than we’d like. But in this case, ignorance is not bliss, because you may later end up consuming that plastic as you enjoy some North Atlantic Cod at dinner.

Plastic Bottle Addiction

There are tiny pieces of plastic in the seafood you're eating. — Zooey DeschanelFollow The Farm Project on Facebook!Via ATTN:

Posted by The Farm Project on Sunday, December 10, 2017

You may now be thinking to yourself, “that cod didn’t eat a whole plastic bottle!” and you’re correct. The cod may not have eaten any plastic at all. But it probably ate anchovies or some other small fish that did eat the plastic. No, not the whole bottle, but since plastic does not degrade or disintegrate over time, it simply wears down into smaller and smaller pieces until it can be easily consumed by small fish.

Did I mention that this plastic may have been a container for anti-freeze, oil, or some industrial chemical? So now think about that cod you’re planning to enjoy. Are you having second thoughts about dinner? I know I am!!

In addition to the wildlife that we consume being contaminated with toxins and chemicals from plastic, there are many other ways the pollution affects the ecosystem. Wildlife may become ill from the toxins, or be ensnared in the debris. Habitat and food supply become degraded threatening the livelihood of many species. In fact, some say that more wildlife is killed by plastic each year, than by climate change.

Ensnared Ocean Turtle

So to help you plan your meals, here are some facts about plastic pollution in the ocean:

  1. About 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered in plastic
  2. Most of the plastic has broken down into particles so small they are not visible to the naked eye
  3. In some areas, the amount of plastic is so dense that it is nearly solid
  4. Ocean currents condense the floating debris into areas called “convergences”
  5. As the currents move the plastic it breaks apart, this is called photodegradation. It does not dissolve or biodegrade, it simply keeps breaking into smaller and smaller pieces.

Due to the issues of tiny, even microscopic, size of the plastic, it can be very difficult to remove from the water. It can be very difficult to even see! This is why the issue went unnoticed for so long, I mean, seeing is believing, right? Many people don’t see the issue, so they feel it must not be that big of an issue. But there are convergence areas so thick and solid that a human being can literally walk on it!

First, and foremost, we need prevention. Until we stop dumping TONS of plastic into the ocean every day, it will be very nearly impossible to clean it up. In order to encourage prevention, we need education, which is why I am writing this. Hopefully, my loyal readers will help me spread the knowledge and encourage others to reduce, and reuse, instead of recycling those plastic bottles.

More knowledge for you:

There is plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean … and in all the other oceans.

Two main convergences, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the North Atlantic Garbage Patch (now you see where I got the North Atlantic Cod idea), have been discovered. The Pacific Garbage Patch is roughly the size of Mexico … wrap your head around that for a minute … we have actually created an entire country out of trash, and not even a small country! Other convergences also exist and the plastic pollution in the ocean also results in plastic pollution of the shoreline. Islands have even been discovered that are covered in trash, even though they are not inhabited.

The “garbage patches” are also commonly referred to as a trash “island”, or “vortex”.

Ocean Garbage Patch Map

Plastic bag pollution facts

  • More than 500 BILLION plastic bags are used annually.
  • In the US alone over 100 billion plastic bags are used every year
  • Plastic bags are the most common form of litter
  • Plastic bag production uses up to 8% of our oil reserves
  • Most plastic bags are used only once (what a waste of oil!)

Plastic bottle pollution facts

Ocean Plastic Infogram

K-cup plastic pollution

Another startling fact is that pollution from single use plastic coffee pods, such as k-cups, has reached critical levels. Discarded K-cups would circle the globe 11 times, if stacked end-to-end.

OK, so what can we do about it?

The good news is that each of us, individually, can make an impact by making simple decisions.

The even better news is that these decisions can be both convenient and money saving!

Reduce your plastic consumption.

Use refillable bottles for water and bring your own bags to the store when you shop.

I personally have been using refillable bottles for a number of years and I have found them to be not only convenient but cost effective as well.

I purchased four bottles that I can fill with water, in two different sizes, and all with built-in filters. I have not replaced any of the bottles in the years since I made the purchase, I have only replaced the filters as needed. I can fill them nearly anywhere. I can bring them into stadiums, fairs, airports and other areas that don’t allow outside food or beverage. I simply bring them empty and then fill them up inside. The smaller sizes fit in a purse or backpack, and the larger ones I usually keep at home in the fridge. I have no concern about water quality wherever I go because of the filters. How’s that for convenience?

Now think about the cost of bottled waters and soft drinks. The typical bottle of water costs $1.50 and the national average cost for tap water is $.002 per gallon. Using these numbers, we find that if you drink one bottle every day you are spending $546.77 additional each year if you choose bottled water over tap water. Think of the savings to your family after a small investment for some refillable bottles! Not to mention the weight of carrying those palettes of bottled water from the store to your car and then into your house. Eliminating that is a savings to your lower back!

I also use reusable shopping bags. I’ll admit that was a hard habit to create. Most bags can be folded small enough to fit into a medium size handbag. I don’t carry a handbag, so I used to keep them in my car. Now I don’t even have a car, but since I had started the habit already, I am pretty good at remembering to bring them with. Start carrying them with you everywhere you go and eventually, you’ll start remembering to always use them.

If you already have a Keurig, you can simply switch to compostable pods instead of the standard plastic. There are many options available in the market, and, surprisingly, most of them are only a slight increase in cost.

Want to do more?

Organizations like 4Ocean are working non-stop to clean up the oceans. You can support them by donating, or purchasing their products. 4Ocean has a bracelet program that boasts that one pound of trash will be cleaned from the ocean for every bracelet purchased.

That’s pretty cool.

So maybe we don’t have our happy ending just yet. But it is definitely possible.

Remember, small steps add up!!

25 Replies to “Trash pollution in the ocean – Let’s clean it up”

  1. Gosh! I din’t realize how much pollution revolves around our oceans. The amount of plastic waste just boggles my mind & the idea that we’re creating countries out of trash is truly overwhelming.

    I totally agree with you that we as individuals need to do our part to make sure we reduce waste. Perhaps one day we can come up with a system that will entirely recycle all thrash so it doesn’t end up floating around in the ocean.

    Instead of using the plastic bags in the grocery store or any store… I take my own non-plastic bags with me that I can reuse. If everyone used their own bags then the use of plastic bags would be reduced considerably. I ask the question: What can we do to eliminate plastic all together?

    Thank you for bringing this critical & important topic to the forefront.

  2. It’s always a concerning problem in the world. But just like you, I believe that every one of us can do little by little to save this world and make it green again. Thank you for sharing!

  3. This is such an informative post. The pictures bring home your point of how serious the problem of ocean pollution is. Offering some solutions that can help lessen pollution is great. Most of the time we are bombarded with the ominous problem but no offer of solutions.

    1. There are so many disturbing and sad pictures available on this subject … I tried not to choose anything too disturbing, but I still wanted to make a point, so I’m glad they were still effective.

  4. What a eye opening article. We as human beings are destroying a beautiful and fully functional designed system. How can we do that? This topic has been my concern as well for years already and I am trying to make a small impact every day to put my little sand grain into the giant machine, hoping it will reap fruit some day:-). Thank you for sharing the stats and facts about pollution. I knew the problem was big, but never thought it was that serious. I will continue to go greener more and more!

    Thanks again,

  5. Oh my goodness, I had NO idea that those garbage patches existed. I also didn’t know that most of the oil in the ocean drained off from the land and not from those terrible oil spills. So much to think about here, and so much motivation to break our addiction to plastics.

      1. Of course. You also gave me something to think about in terms of saving $….I had no idea those plastic bottles added up to so much every year. Definitely makes sense to have a reusable bottle and to force myself to bring the bags to the grocery store each and every time!

  6. Hello Kat , This topic cannot be overstated. It is absolutely necessary that everyone thing about cleaning up the planet. I live in southern Manitoba and the garbage problem is evident every where. My pet peeve is gasoline powered recreational vehicles that do nothing but make stink and noise. Back to the original topic. Plastic garbage is a problem everywhere from the middle of the prairies to the oceans. I just read an article where an UCLA professor wrote that cats and dogs add to the global carbon foot print just through their existence. I thought why doesn’t he take his education and clean the oceans!

    1. LOL, well I suppose that all living creatures add to the global carbon footprint by existing. But I think humans probably add the most, and we can actually do something about it too! Thanks for your comment!

  7. I watch documentaries on ocean pollution. You’re right. People think that because the ocean is so large it won’t have an inverse effect. Reducing plastic will be a major job.

    Thanks for your post.

  8. Hi Kat, awesome article!

    I think microplastics is one of the worst environmental problems we face because they’re everywhere now, and most people are not aware of it.
    For a long time, humans thought the ocean was the perfect way to get rid of their rubbish and keep on with business as usual. Now, we realize the ocean life is threatened by plastics and other pollutants, and no country wants to take responsibility for removal.
    It’s great to see organizations like 4Ocean doing such an honorable job. I hope people, government, and organizations get more and more aware of this problem and take action to minimize pollution.

    1. Yes! I am glad you are already aware, but we definitely need to keep spreading the word. So many people are completely unaware of this massive issue.

  9. Hey Kat
    Such an amazing post ever , you have nicely done in one article about pollution in the ocean , and great step to elaborate to it
    Thank you for sharing

  10. Great post! We are trying to encourage people to travel more sustainably and use less plastic. Koh Lanta is a small island in the South of Thailand and it struggles to cope with the amount of trash generated by the tourists who visit here. We are seeing an increasing amount of plastic waste (and discarded fishing items) washed up on to the beaches here each year as well.

    We have a great organization in Thailand called Trash Hero that holds weekly beach clean ups and runs a refillable water bottle scheme, where people who buy one of their water bottles can refill it with free drinking water at participating businesses.

    It’s so sad that we are destroying the planet but lots of people are working hard here on Koh Lanta to try to keep the island a paradise.

    Everyone in the world needs to start taking more responsibility and make more effort to reduce the amount of plastic they use.

    1. Wow, I’m so sorry to hear that your island is getting so polluted! But I’m glad there are people taking action to help keep it clean. Hopefully they’ll put in some tourism regulations that call for less waste. After all, once the paridise is lost the tourism money will stop coming in anyway!

      If you have any links you’d like to post that will help support Koh Lanta please feel free to post them here!

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