BEHIND THE HEADLINES
Plastic pollution is making waves – so how can we cut down on our plastic use?
More than eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year. This debris results in an estimated $13 billion a year in losses from damage to marine ecosystems, including financial losses to fisheries and tourism as well as time spent cleaning beaches.
Garbage patches have developed in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, mainly comprising plastics that are not biodegradable. The microplastics (plastics less than 5mm) of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch make the water look like a cloudy soup. These enter oceans as beads from personal care products; microfibres from clothes; nurdles (lentil-sized plastic pellets used to make nearly all of our plastic products); or from larger plastic items that have broken into small pieces. Microplastics are found everywhere from seabeds to Arctic ice.
Drifting plastic accumulates algae and smells similar to the krill that many marine animals feed on. Thousands of albatross chicks die in the North Pacific Ocean from starvation, toxicity and choking on plastics. The UK’s fulmar population is also affected, with nurdles found in the digestive system of 90% of sampled birds.