The Plastic Pollution Problem

About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year (Jambeck et al., 2015). Part of this accumulates in 5 areas where currents converge: the gyres. At least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are currently in the oceans (Eriksen et al., 2014), a third of which is concentrated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Cózar et al., 2014). This plastic pollution continues to do the following damage in the ages to come:

Environment

At least one million seabirds, and one-hundred thousand marine mammals die each year due to plastic pollution (Laist, 1997). The survival of at least 100+ species (Gall et al., 2015), including the Hawaiian Monk Seal and Loggerhead Turtle, could be jeopardized by plastic debris (Derraik, 2002). Plastic pollution is furthermore a carrier of invasive species, threatening native ecosystems (Barnes, 2005).

Economy

Globally, plastic pollution causes at least US $13 billion each year to industries that include fishing, shipping, tourism and the cleaning of coastlines (UNEP 2014). The US West Coast spends approximately US $500 million each year to clean up their beaches. The costs of removing debris from beaches is on average US $1,500, and up to US $25,000 per ton (APEC 2009).

Health

Toxic chemicals (including PCBs and DDTs) are adsorbed by the plastic, increasing the concentration a million times (Mato et al., 2001). After entering the food chain, these persistent organic pollutants bio-accumulate in the food chain, resulting in an even higher concentration of pollutants inside fish (Tanaka et al., 2013), including ones consumed by humans. Health effects linked to these chemicals are: cancer, malformation and impaired reproductive ability (Takada, oceanhealthindex.org).