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Very soon we face the challenge of having more plastic than fish in the oceans

Plastic and plastic wrapping are an integrated and important part of the global economy that also causes a number of environmental and health issues. The production of plastic has exploded during the last 50 years, from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014. And it is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Plastics - The facts 2015

 

According to the latest research by Jenna Jambeck from the Univeristy of Georgia, approximately 8 million tonnes of garbage are discharged in the oceans every year. This is expected to double in the course of the next ten years. If we continue polluting the oceans with plastic, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.

Based on this, UN declares, that plastic pollution in the oceans is ”a common concern for all mankind”. 

It is a great documentation and research-based challenge to determine the extent and consequences of plastic pollution. Plastic Change leads the way to solve this challenge with a series of projects. 

Plastic in the ocean – where does it come from?

The list of sources of plastic in the oceans is long. There are analyses of how much the individual countries contributes with, and there are analyses of how much plastic wrapping that is recycled, incinerated, deposited ashore and ends up in the oceans.

 

Plastic garbage ends up in the oceans via many different routes. The UN Environmental Programme UNEP estimates, that globally around 80% of the garbage that ends up in the oceans comes from land-based activities, including:

  • Rubbish dump
  • Industry
  • Discharge from surge drains
  • Unprocessed waste water and
  • tourism.

 

The remaining 20% comes from activities on water, including:

 

  • Fishery
  • Container transportation
  • Ferries and cruise ships 
  • Offshore industry (oil and gas platforms).

We know very little about microplastic from textiles, tires, paint etc. In January 2018 the Danish environmental protection agency released a report (in danish) about lack of knowledge regarding the sources.

However, new science is continuously brought to the table, and Plastic Change has also drawn attention to the fact that up to 20 million fibres can be released every time you do your laundry, according to research. Read more about the project Ocean Clean Wash, that involves the clothes industry. 

What is the challenge for the environment?

Marine mammals, birds and fish have a risk of dying when they become entangled in old fishing nets, ropes and plastic bags, and when they swallow plastic pieces, small capsules and other smaller parts. Among the seabird species, more than 90%, have plastic in their stomachs. Every fourth herring have plastic in their stomachs in beer, wine and honey there are microplastic that is defined as plastic smaller than 5 mm.

 

Today, there is microplastic in many clams and it can hurt their ability to reproduce. The environmental challenge of plastic waste in the oceans is very clear. The UN recommends that we now act from a precautionary principle. Scientists still know very little about whether microplastic can cause harmful materials to be accumulated in the food chain, and whether than can pose any threat to humans and the ecosystems. Therefore, this subject needs to be investigated a lot further. Plastic Change focuses on getting data for this kind of documentation, for instance through the project Plastfree Sea.

 

Plastic island or soup

There are no plastic islands connected to the mainland in the oceans. There are areas with high concentrations of degraded plastic in the oceans, the so-called gyres or 'plasticsoups'.

The microplastic gathers up in five big soups in the oceans due to ocean currents. Together they make up an area the size of Africa. Here, there is a very high concentration of degraded particles that float just beneath the surface. Here there can be six times as much plastic as in plankton.

These plastic soups of waste exist because circulating ocean currents suck out all the waste towards the middle so that it can’t escape again. Plastic Change takes part in mapping the concentration of microplastic in the oceans through our 'Expedition plastic'.