Today we produce about 300 million tonnes of plastic a year and 8 of them end up in the seas and oceans. It is estimated that there are currently about 150 million tonnes in our waters and yet the manufacture of plastic products is constantly increasing. The data is obscene: every year we use 500 billion plastic bags worldwide, more than one million per minute, with a lifespan of no more than 15 minutes. 40% of what we produce is intended for packaging and only 14% of these plastics are recycled. “Islands” of garbage have been found formed mostly by microplastics in the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
Without of a plan of action to reduce the amount of plastics that reach the sea, it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
Effects of plastics on the environment and human health
The ocean is fundamental to the health of our planet and our survival. 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from marine plants and the ocean absorbs 30% of the CO2 emissions produced by humans.
Plastics remain in the environment for hundreds of years in their original form and for longer periods of time, they remain depleted in small particles. These micro-particles smaller than 5mm, act as magnets of toxic substances that end up entering the organisms of marine species. There are at least 690 marine species affected, from plankton to whales.
90% of the world’s birds have plastic chunks in their stomachs.
And more than a quarter of the fish from Indonesia and California markets contain particles of this material. The entry of plastic substances into the food chain has catastrophic effects, not only on the environment, but also on our health.
Change is possible
Although the figures are alarming, we must not lose hope. There are many initiatives emerging that denounce and reverse this trend and ensure a plastics-free future for our oceans and seas.
The eminent marine biologist and explorer of the National Geographic Society Sylvia Earle captains Mission Blue, an association whose goal is to protect the oceans in the same way we now protect the Earth. As Mrs. Earle says: “If there is no water, there is no life. If there is no blue, there is no green”.
Another great contributor is Ellen MacArthur, who became the fastest solo traveler in 2005 and years later inspired by the lessons learned in her journeys, she developed the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This foundation is responsible for the New Plastics Economy program which seeks to re-think and re-design the future of plastics and aims to increase the reuse and recycling rate of plastic containers from the current 14% to 70%.
The European project Interreg MED Blue Islands is also an initiative that will analyse and propose solutions for the increase of waste during the summer period in nine Mediterranean islands: Mallorca, Sardinia and Sicily, Malta, Rab, Crete, Rhodes, Mykonos and Cyprus. For 3 years they will work to develop and devise effective means to solve this problem.
The Catalan Waste Agency (ARC) also collaborates in the prevention of plastic waste in the Mediterranean through its projects Marviva, ACT4litter and Marine-litter MED.
The Plastic Oceans Foundation does an extraordinary job in its goal of changing the global attitude towards plastic in this generation. It has filmed a documentary which includes great scientists and narrators such as Sir David Attenborough, who denounces the problem of plastics at sea and their effects on human health.
Also highlighting the work of 7ème Continent in France and in Spain, the work of Greenpeace. Their campaign “Better without plastics” carried out more than twenty clean-ups of beaches, rivers and reservoirs of all the country. There are many initiatives and awareness campaigns that are carried out globally and little by little we see results.
What can I do?
The best thing we can do to help protect marine life is to reduce the consumption of plastics and rethink our philosophy of use and disposal. Greenpeace makes it easy in its list of simple steps:
- Avoid single-use plastic bags. Use cloth bags, baskets or cars.
- Prioritise the purchase of reusable and/or returnable bottles and containers.
- Check the ingredients of your cosmetics and avoid the product with microplastics: polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), PET, PMMA and/or nylon.
- Reject disposable containers and utensils such as glasses, cutlery, or straws.
- Dispose of plastic waste in the appropriate container.
- Avoid items with excess packaging (eg plastic polystyrene trays) and prioritise bulk products.