FAQs About Ocean Plastic

Plastic bottle floating in the ocean

 How much plastic is in the ocean?

Getting accurate information about plastic pollution in the ocean presents a challenge because there are no international standards for reporting waste. The most widely cited estimate is that 8 million metric tons (8.8 million US tons) of plastic are added to the ocean every year. By volume, that's about 3,500 gallons a minute. 

Scientists are continuing to study this issue, and are finding that even more plastic hides in the depths of the ocean.  Embedded in the sea floor alone, there are 16 million tons of microplastics. More plastic remains suspended in the water, washed up in beach sediments, and ingested by marine animals of all sizes. 

What happens to plastic in the environment?

The durability that makes plastic so useful also make it troublesome. While paper, wood, and other naturally derived materials eventually decompose when exposed to the elements, plastic persists for 400 to 1,000 years.

Plastics that are less than 5 mm in diameter are called microplastics. Microplastics are formed as plastic breaks down in the environment, or as products like tires and paint flake off, leaving tiny pieces of plastic debris. Plankton, fish, and even coral readily ingest these small particles of plastic, where they work their way through the food chain.  Microplastics have even been found in humans.

Larger pieces of plastic also pose an issue in the ocean because they can choke or entangle sea life. Additionally, plastic damages human health and livelihoods in coastal communities.  It’s estimated that plastic pollution causes $13 billion in damage every year.

Silhouetted Sea Turtle

What can we do about this?

While it won't be easy, plastic pollution is a solvable problem. The three best solutions are to reduce how much plastic we produce and consume, substitute necessary plastic with products designed with disposal in mind, and get better at recycling the plastic that’s already in circulation. With concerted action, we can reduce global plastic pollution by 78%

Reducing plastic production and consumption is the best way to ensure it does not pollute land or sea. You can be a part of this solution by carrying your own reusable water bottle with you and taking your own bags to the grocery store. There are reusable alternatives for almost every single-use plastic item out there.  Businesses can also play a role in reducing plastic waste by only offering single-use items when absolutely necessary, and choosing packaging options with minimal plastic.

Recycling is a promising, but complicated solution to plastic pollution.  Technically, almost all plastic can be recycled.  The challenges in making recycling a widespread solution are with the collection of materials and the economics of selling the recycled product. Keeping plastic that we’ve already produced in use as a more durable product is a promising path to dealing with the mountains of plastic waste we have on hand. Designing plastic products to be more easily recycled can also advance this solution.

Where can I learn more?

We're so glad you're interested! Every concerned citizen makes a difference.  We've curated a library of our favorite studies, articles, and resources that you can browse, and make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get tips on how you can help and insights from Blue Verve Project.

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