Plastic pollution is so widespread in the ocean that it causes the most damage near coastlines. Plastics come in all shapes and sizes. Plastic debris threatens marine life and negatively impacts coastal economies. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, marine debris is any solid material that is produced or processed directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, and disposed of in the Great Lakes or the ocean.

Why do we use all sorts of plastic?

Plastic is a useful material that is also durable, convenient, lightweight and ubiquitous. It is widely used for mass production, such as cutlery, cups, bags and toys, because it can be moulded into almost any shape and is very economical to process. It also provides good electrical insulation, thermal protection and sound insulation.

Sources of plastic in marine environment

Plastic is ubiquitous in our daily lives and can end up in the ocean in many ways. For example, you buy a plastic bottle and put it in the recycling bin. Unfortunately, the bottle never makes it to the recycling plant. It could be blown into a river or stream, or it could end up in a storm drain. After that, the plastic bottle can be broken down into smaller pieces by the sun and water. These particles released into waterways are a major source of water pollution that can affect the life and health of many different organisms.

According to the only reliable estimate currently available, only 20% of plastic pollution comes from marine sources. The vast majority {80%} comes from land-based sources. Here is a look at the main land-based sources of plastic pollution:

  • Lack of proper waste management and illegal dumping. Typically, plastic fragments from open dumps can be washed into rivers, oceans and streams. This happens when there are no effective landfill sites in the area.
  • Natural disasters: Extreme natural disasters can release almost any type of waste into the sea. Although they are not frequent, such events can have significant environmental impacts
  • Inadequate wastewater filtration. Although sewage treatment plants can filter waste, they cannot filter tiny plastic particles. These particles, such as clothing fibres or cosmetic microbeads, pass through and are released into the sea.
  • Stormwater discharge. Stormwater runoff can collect municipal waste, including waste from streets, landfills and dumpsites. This is then discharged into rivers, oceans and streams.
  • CSOs. The combined sewer system overflows after heavy rainfall. When CSOs are full, they overflow and release waste into waterways.
  • Coastal litter: People who enjoy spending time at the beach may leave behind litter, which can include cigarette butts, food and plastic beach toys, and drink containers.

Effects of plastic on the marine environment

Plastic disrupts the food chain

Because plastic debris comes in all shapes and sizes, plastic pollution affects the world’s tiniest organisms, whether they live in water or on land.

Plastic pollutes groundwater

The world’s water is at risk from leaking plastics and waste. Plastic is also responsible for most of the pollution in the world’s oceans. This has terrible consequences for many marine species.

How can we reduce plastic pollution?

Many groups and individuals around the world are raising awareness and encouraging everyone to help slow or stop the tide of litter before it is too late and becomes marine debris. Many countries are now banning the use of plastic bags, such as Kenya and Rwanda in East Africa.

  • Use reusable shopping bags and bottled water. You can buy them at reasonable prices in your local shops.
  • Avoid using everyday plastics, such as juice cartons or standard sandwich bags. Alternatively, use thermos flasks or lunch boxes.
  • Avoid single-use plastics such as single-serve packaging. Carrying reusable utensils in your backpack or purse can be handy when you go out of the house.
  • Take a takeaway cup to the café or restaurant.
  • Buy media content online to limit the use of plastic DVDs and CDs.
  • Use every possible alternative to replace the plastic products around you.
  • Recycle the plastic product if you must use it.
  • Raise awareness by talking to your friends and family about the impact of plastic on the environment.
  • Volunteer to clean up plastic polluted areas such as the beach.
  • Donate to conservation organisations (such as WWF, Oceancare) to help them continue their work.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends. By doing so, you will help raise awareness of marine pollution. Thank you very much!

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