“Plastic is not an intrinsically bad material, it is an invention that has changed the world. The plastic became bad due to the way that industries and governments use it and the way society has converted it into a disposable and single-use convenience…’
These are the opening words of the WWF Report 2019 (World Wildlife Fund) on plastic waste pollution on our planet.
Where does plastic waste come from?
Many of us have heard about the problem of plastic in our oceans, but where does it come from?
Globally, over 80% of the yearly input comes from land-based sources, such as plastic packaging and bottles. Over 90% of the plastic waste that gets into the ocean is carried there by ten rivers in Asia and Africa. These rivers flow through areas of high population where people don’t have access to good waste disposal.
In contrast, in the UK, plastic which goes in our bins is either recycled, burned for energy or buried in a landfill. This shouldn’t end up in the ocean if managed properly. Instead, the larger pieces of plastic that enter the sea come from plastic pellets produced by industry, littering and plastic from fishing nets and ropes.
Another important source are microplastics…
Microplastics are less than half a centimetre in size. They come from the wear and tear on car types, the breakdown of plastic litter, cosmetic microbeads and from washing clothes containing man-made fibres. Information on the effects of microplastics is limited. However, we know they don’t biodegrade and so build up in the marine environment, where they can be ingested by animals. These microplastics can contain plastics that are toxic to animals.
Around the world
Worldwide, the United Nations says that the equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of plastic reaches the ocean every minute causing a range of problems for wildlife here are just some of the effects:
Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea-birds, 100,000 other marine animals and countless fish each year.
Birds and animals eat pieces of plastic which may choke them. Or they may get caught up in rubbish and be injured or die. Even if they don’t die, the animals may be weaker and less successful at reproducing.
Some plastics contain chemicals that last for a very long-time and are toxic to wildlife.
Many people and organisations across the globe are coming up with innovative solutions and campaigns trying to tackle the plastic problem. From scientists to artists and litter heroes, in the coming months, we will be highlighting just some of these projects.
Around the world, governments are committed to taking action and the World Economic Forum has proposed 8 Steps to solve the oceans plastic problem. In the UK, the Environment Bill allows for deposit schemes, charges for single-use plastics and charges for carrier bags.
Plastic science in Sussex
Marine Bioplastics – Sussex student wins award for developing a biodegradable plastic from fish waste
Discover the Our Plastic Oceans by Mandy Barker temporary exhibition or find out how you can take action in the fight against plastic at Brighton & Hove’s recycling page Brighton & Hove or discover more ways you can get involved via the links below.