Recently when reports started circulating about a young male sperm whale discovered dead off the coast of Spain with 30 kilograms (64 pounds) of garbage in its digestive system, there were fresh calls from marine biologists, ocean activists and conservationists for more to be done about plastic consumption and ocean pollution.
This isn’t the first time a marine animal has consumed plastic rubbish and it certainly won’t be the last. A study found that 693 animal species have encountered debris, with nearly 400 involving entanglement and ingestion.
It’s not just animals consuming plastic – humans are too. A study of tap water samples from over a dozen countries on five continents found that 83 percent were contaminated with invisible plastic fibres.
Why is there so much plastic finding its way into our oceans?
To answer this question, we need to look more closely at the amount of plastic produced, consumed and discarded.
According to a study published in Science Advances as at 2015, there have been 8.3 billion tons of virgin plastic produced. Researchers estimated that of that, 6.3 billion had turned into plastic waste, with just nine percent recycled and 12 percent incinerated. A whopping 79 percent has made its way into landfills or the natural environment.
A study on plastic waste from land into the ocean led by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, compiled a list of the world’s 20 worst plastic polluters. According to the team of American and Australian researchers, the five worst ocean polluters are in Asia, with China topping the list, and Indonesia in second place.
Solving the ocean pollution problem
- inadequate waste collection and management
- poor recycling infrastructure,
- lack of clean drinking water which forces a reliance on bottled water; and
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