How much ocean pollution is plastic?


Official records estimate that currently, there are 15-51 trillion pieces of plastics in oceans across the globe. As a matter of fact, there is not one square mile of ocean free of plastic pollution. Despite that, 8 million tonnes of plastic find their way into the world’s oceans every year.

Let’s get the picture clearly: this is equivalent to a truckload of plastic being dumped into the ocean every single minute. Sounds alarming! And that’s the reality of the matter. 

Here are more plastic pollution facts:

  1. In 1950, the world population stood at 2.5 billion people – only 1.5 million tons of plastic was produced.  In 2016, the world population was slightly above 7 billion people. This is a population increase of 180 %. However, more than 320 million tons of plastic was produced that year – representing an increase of about 22,000 %. In the next 15 years, it is predicted that plastic production will double.
  2. Each day, about 8 million pieces of plastic are released into the ocean
  3. About 90% of all marine debris is plastic
  4. All marine turtles have plastics in their body – in addition to 59 % of whales, 40% of sea birds, and 36% of seals

Let’s now talk about how oceans get polluted with plastics.

Where does ocean plastic pollution start?

For your information, there are two sources of pollution namely

  • Nonpoint source pollution
  • Point source pollution

Point source pollution involves discharging pollutants from a single place. A good example is a chemical industry releasing wastewater into a nearby river through a discharge pipe. This is usually easy to identify.

Non-point source pollution involves a collection of pollutants from several places usually far from each other. As such, it becomes quite difficult to identify the exact sources and rightfully address the pollution problem.

Ocean plastic pollution is categorized as non-point source pollution. This implies that the plastic waste comes not only from human activities along the coastline but also from areas far inland. In fact, experts have confirmed that about 67% of all plastic waste in the oceans comes from land-based sources. 

How plastics get to the ocean

One notorious source of ocean plastic is open garbage disposal areas. Virtually every city or town has a designated area to dispose of their waste. As the garbage heaps grow bigger and bigger, the wind current is able to blow the trash as it wishes. Some places have strong winds that can carry such trash hundreds of kilometers. 

The trash will only stop its journey once it encounters an obstacle that can hold it stronger than the wind forces. Water is able to intercept the flight as it fills or clogs plastic trash, making it heavy enough not to be blown around. The first point of rest may be perhaps a river. And you understand that many inland rivers drain into the ocean. 

 Beachgoers also play a significant in polluting oceans. Some beaches have no designated garbage collection bins. People, therefore, throw trash wherever they please. In other instances, where waste collection bins are provided, some people just choose to be irresponsible and litter the ocean anyhow. 

Other sources of ocean plastic pollution include:

  • Badly managed landfill sites
  • Industries located along coastlines
  • Fishing industry
  • Aquaculture

How long does plastic last in the ocean?

During the making of plastic products, the manufacturers add several chemical agents to make the plastic durable, mechanically strong, and corrosion-resistant. And they do their job really well. You’ll find that most plastics can last as long as 500 years in the environment before decomposition. 

Even after such a long period of time, the plastics merely break into smaller fragments known as microplastics. Marine animals feed on microplastics as they confuse them for food. Once plastics enter the food chain, it becomes a continuous chain of deaths for marine animals, terrestrial animals, and humans.

Why it’s challenging to collect ocean plastic

Some governments have tried to install floating clean-up devices in oceans to collect plastic trash. The results have so far been way below average. This is dues to the vast extent of oceans and the fact that it is so difficult to control ocean currents.

In some countries, especially third-world countries, no serious effort is being made to get rid of ocean plastic. To add salt to injury, there are no proper plastic pollution control methods being enforced. Therefore, plastic continues to pile in oceans at a faster rate than it is removed. 

Taking all into account,

Ocean plastic pollution is a real problem. It is fast growing by every dawn of the day.  One of the ways to solve the problem is changing the way you use plastic products. Say no to as many plastic products as you can. And for those you must use, find a way to upcycle them. In case they can’t be transformed into anything useful, ensure the plastic waste reaches recycling companies.