There Could Be More Plastic than Fish in the Oceans by 2050

January 21, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Waste in the ocean
Photo credit: Steven Guerissi/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Annually, we produce “five bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”

The oceans are so important, not only for the species that live in them, but for our survival as well.  The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat — all come from or are transported by the ocean.  Oceans hold more than 97 percent of the planet’s water, produce more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorb a lot of the carbon from it.

Humans used to think that we could never harvest too many of its resources or put too much garbage into them.  However, we have been degrading the ecosystems on which our survival depends.  According to a new study, the amount of plastic in the ocean will be more than the number of fish, pound per pound, by the year 2050.  

A disturbing statistic.

SEE ALSO: Adidas Makes Eco-Friendly Shoes Out of Ocean Trash

We are all aware of the giant balls of garbage floating around in the Pacific Ocean.  This waste eventually washes up on the shores of beaches and islands, and into the stomach of sea turtles and nearly all marine birds.

If the garbage in the oceans was bagged and arranged across all of the world’s shorelines, we could build a plastic barricade between ourselves and the sea.  But as the report states, it is going to get a lot worse.

Although plastic is a part of everyday life, drastic steps need to be taken to reduce plastic waste.  For example, most plastic packaging products are used only once before they are discarded, resulting in an annual economic loss of up to $120 billion.  Even more so, plastic production is extremely resource-intensive, and will most likely consume 20 percent of all oil produced by 2050.

According to nonprofit conservation organization Keep America Beautiful, Americans produced 30 million tons of plastic products in 2009, and only 2 million tons were properly disposed of or recycled.

And where does this waste go?  Into the world’s oceans and landfills where they degrade very, very slowly (thousands of years) and cause harm to wildlife.  According to the report, we will be making three times as much plastic products as we did in 2014.

Humans are actually really, really bad at making sure the products we use are either reused or properly disposed of.  About one third of all plastic products escape collection systems and end up in the oceans, which is about 8 million metric tons a year, or in other words, “Five bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.” said Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia to The Washington Post.

Once this trash enters the oceans, it costs the economy over $13 billion a year due to losses in tourism, shipping, and the fishing industry — threatening food security for people who depend on it.  It is also really bad for animals living in the ocean, and humans too.  

Plastics can leach toxins such as lead, cadmium and mercury — a few of the toxins that are already found in many fish in the ocean — and Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) contained in some plastics, is a toxic carcinogen.  Other toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues.

So what can we do to reduce our use of plastics?  Here is an easy to follow list as a start:

  1. 1. Bring your own shopping bags

  2. 2. Stop buying bottled water (it is less regulated than the water coming from your tap)

  3. 3. Bring your own thermos for coffee

  4. 4. Buy food in glass instead of plastic

  5. 5. Upcycle — think of new uses for old items

  6. 6. Say no to straws — they are found the most on beaches

  7. 7. Recycle!

This list shows just a few ideas, but there is a lot more we can all do to keep Earth beautiful.

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