More plastic in the ocean than fish

There is more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Yes, you read that correctly. By the year 2050, it is estimated that there will be more waste plastic (by weight) in the ocean than fish. As of 2021, there are at least 363,762,732,605 pounds of plastic pollution in the world's oceans.

Worldwide, every minute of every day, one refuse truck’s worth of waste plastic is dumped into the sea. With an estimated 3% of all the plastic produced worldwide ending up in the ocean, this is arguably the number one environmental catastrophe facing our world today for many reasons. 

The oceans are made up of five gyres. A gyre is network of currents that creates slow, rotating whirlpools. Plastics that end up in the ocean become caught in the gyres, creating what are known as “garbage patches.” You may have heard of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which is estimated to be approximately twice the size of the continental U.S. However, not all garbage patches are visible to the eye. Water and sunlight break down plastic in the ocean into tiny particles. Make no mistake – the plastic never goes away, it just gets smaller and smaller. 

Plastic in the ocean is a threat to sea life, as fish, turtles, and other marine life mistake plastic for food. Plastic particles also absorb toxins in the water like a sponge. One plastic particle in the ocean can be more than one million times more toxic than the water around it. When these particles are eaten by fish, the toxins make their way into the human food chain.

Over 1 million marine organisms are killed each year due to plastic pollution, and animals that eat plastic often starve because the plastic prevents them from swallowing food properly.

Currently, plastic production accounts for about 5% of all oil production. Within 35 years, it is estimated that new plastic production will consume 20% of all oil production worldwide. Currently, only about 5% of plastic is recycled effectively: about 40% goes into landfills, and the rest is found in the ecosystem, mainly our waterways such as oceans and lakes (yes, Lake Erie has lots of plastic in it). Because of the world’s demand for more and more single use plastics, it is estimated that if we continue “as is,” plastic production is expected to double in the next 20 years and quadruple by 2050. 

Whew, that’s a lot of bad news! What can you do as an individual to help this problem? You can start to phase out single-use plastics in your life. As I’ve said before in this column, bring your own travel coffee cup to fill at coffee shops, and bring your own bags to the grocery store. Choose cans of soda instead of plastic bottles. Refuse plastic straws every chance you get. Don’t buy water in plastic. Bring your own, refillable water bottle with you so you don’t end up purchasing one. (This also saves you money!) Buy some reusable produce bags to use at the grocery store instead of plastic.

To be even more proactive, look around your home at your plastic use. Can you switch out your plastic soap dispensers for bars of soap? Instead of using plastic bags and baggies to store food, try reusable containers. Glass jars work well for this, so start saving them when you finish a jar of jam or something else.

When you see plastic on the street, pick it up! If you don’t, it will most likely make its way into Lake Erie. Think about everything disposable you are using, and I bet it’s made of plastic. Each of our collective actions add up to a much bigger effect, so yes, you CAN make a difference.

Now you also may be saying to yourself: “but something more must be done, this responsibility can’t lie only on us, the consumers. What about the companies producing all of this plastic and not taking responsibility for it later?” Why, that’s a really great question, and yes, you can be a part of this solution as well.

Natural gas and oil companies have tax subsidies that incentivize them to produce more and more plastic. Fossil fuel subsidies MUST stop, and we need to use legislation to put an end to single use plastics. We need to hold companies responsible for cleaning up the waste they create.

This problem is not “ours” as consumers. We have been led to believe that it IS our problem, that we can solve it by recycling. Avoiding single use plastics in our individual lives absolutely has a place, and recycling is also important – but these actions will not solve the plastics problem. What can you do? Let your local, state, and national representatives know your concern. Call and email them. Send them letters. This is not a problem we will be able to ever recycle our way out of.

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Volume 15, Issue 1, Posted 9:54 AM, 01.17.2023