50 Facts About Plastics in the Ocean

Heading out to the supermarket today? Yes, chances are you’ll be taking home your goods in plastic containers and carrier bags. Craving an iced vanilla latte? Yup, that’s another plastic cup to throw away! Convenient as they are, plastics, in any form, have become one of the most pressing environmental issues we have today. We’re churning out plastic at a rate that’s too overwhelming for the world to handle! And who gets the short end of the stick? It’s the ocean and its residents. Keep on reading to discover 50 facts about plastics in the ocean. 

Fact 1: On average, roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic is thrown into the ocean each year. 

  • Of this number, 236,000 tons are microplastics– tiny pieces of broken-down plastic that are smaller than your little fingernail. 

Fact 2: There are 5 massive garbage patches just floating out there in the Earth’s oceans. 

  • In fact, the one between California and Hawaii is the size of the state of Texas. 

Fact 3: Every minute, 1 garbage truckload of plastic is dumped into oceans.

  • That’s 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually just dropped into our oceans. 

Fact 4: By 2020, the amount of plastic in the ocean is set to increase tenfold. 

  • The consequences of throwing plastic into the ocean are projected to go beyond our time on this Earth, because of the length of time it takes for plastics to biodegrade.

Fact 5: By 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish (by weight). 

  • At the moment, only 14% of global plastic packaging is collected for recycling and only 2% is reused as packaging. 

Fact 6: You can find plastics in the ocean as deep down as 11km deep.

  • This means that synthetic fibres have contaminated even the most remote places on Earth. 

Fact 7: Many marine organisms end up eating floating plastics and dying. 

  • Marine animals can’t distinguish common plastic items from food. They often go on to starve after eating plastic because they can’t digest it, and this fills up their stomachs and prevents them from eating real food.  

Fact 8: Contact with ‘marine plastic’ increases the likelihood of corals becoming diseased from 4% to 89%. 

  • It also damages the skin of corals thus allowing infections to spread. 

Fact 9: There is more plastic than natural prey at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

  • As a result, Sea Turtles caught by fishermen operating around the patch, can have up to 74% (by dry weight) of their diets made up of plastics. 

Fact 10: Humans may have already consumed plastic by eating fish. 

  • Many humans consume fish, including brown trout, cisco, and perch, which have all at one time or another eaten plastic microfibers.

Fact 11: In 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. 

  • In comparison, back in 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced only 1.5 million tons of plastic.  

Fact 12: There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean.

  • That’s around 269,000 tons of macro and microplastics in the ocean.

Fact 13: Approximately 60 to 90% of all marine debris studied are made up of plastic.

  • Plastics often contain additives making them stronger, more flexible, and durable. 

Fact 14: Around 5,000 items of ‘marine plastic pollution’ have been found per mile of beach in the UK.

  • Interestingly, half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.

Fact 15: Recent studies have revealed ‘marine plastic pollution’ is in 100% of marine turtles.

  • Gut content analysis of other marine organisms has also shown plastic pollution occurring in 59% of whales, 36% of seals, and 40% of seabird species examined.

Fact 16: 100,000 marine mammals and turtles are killed by ‘marine plastic pollution’ annually.

  •  Around 1 million sea birds fall casualty to plastic debris as well. 

Fact 17: Every day, tons of plastic is swept into the Pacific Ocean. 

  • For example, in Los Angeles, the US, around 10 metric tons of plastic fragments such as soda bottles, straws, and grocery bags are thrown into the Pacific Ocean on a regular basis.

Fact 18: Around 50% of the plastic that people use are used only once. 

  • They are then they thrown away as waste.

Fact 19: The amount of plastic that is thrown away, and thrown into the ocean, is enough to circle the earth 4 times.

  •  The amount of plastic thrown away is too overwhelming that there is a need to ban it.

Fact 20: Sadly, we can only recover around 5% of the plastic bags that we produce at present. 

  • Very few plastic bags are recycled which is not healthy for our environment, and human health in the long run.

Fact 21: On average, an American throws away around 185 pounds of plastic annually. 

  • The conveniences plastics offers has led to a ‘throw-away’ culture that has resulted in the Earth’s current dilemma of plastic pollution. 

Fact 22: Plastic accounts for approximately 10% of the total waste that humans generate. 

  • Humans generate waste such as kitchen waste among other wastes, which often end up in landfills, in our surrounding areas, or in the water. 

Fact 23: America throws away around 35 billion plastic water bottles annually. 

  • Bottled water is ready-made, portable and easily accessible, hence most Americans opt for it. However, these bottles are not reused by people and are just thrown away.

Fact 24: The human body is capable of absorbing plastic chemicals. 

  • In fact, approximately 93% of Americans who are aged 6 and above have tested positive for BPA.

Fact 25: Several compounds found in plastic can alter hormones or even have some potential negative human health effects.

  • PBC is one such chemical that significantly alters an individual’s hormones.

Fact 26: About 97% of plastics ever made still exist. 

  • Although a small portion of plastic waste is incinerated, every other piece of plastic ever made continues to exist in some form or shape.

Fact 27: We unknowingly consume numerous microscopic particles of plastic. 

  • For instance, 85% of the plastic particles collected from Lake Erie for a study, were found to be smaller than two-tenths of an inch, and a lot of this was microscopic. 

Fact 28: It takes around 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.

  • Plastic only breaks into very small tiny pieces, but does not degrade thus polluting the environment.

Fact 29: The US Law, MARPOL Annex V was implemented on 31st December 1988. 

  • This law prohibits disposing of plastic into the marine environment, and requires that ports provide facilities for ship-generated plastic waste.

Fact 30: There are billions of pounds of plastic in the swirling convergences within the oceans, and they make up around 40% of the worlds ocean surfaces.

  • Around 80% of plastic pollution enters the ocean from the land.

Fact 31: On Henderson Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Group, isolated halfway between Chile and New Zealand, scientists found plastic items from Russia, the United States, Europe, South America, Japan, and China. 

  • The plastic debris was carried to the South Pacific by the South Pacific gyre, a circular ocean current.

Fact 32: Fortunately, there are countries that have already banned or even restricted the use of plastic bags.

  • Examples include Australia, Ireland, and Bangladesh among other nations.

Fact 33: Most of the ‘marine plastic’ debris collects in different regions of the North Pacific. 

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vast gyre of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, and is considered as the largest ocean garbage site on Earth. 

Fact 34: A plastic cup takes around 50-80 years to decompose. 

  • A plastic cup uses non-renewable materials, and this material does not degrade which is why plastic cups continue to exist for a very long time

Fact 35: Most or all of the recycled plastics could be used to make things such as park benches, trash cans, decks, playground equipment, and kayaks.

  • Plastic recycling is the process of recovering different types of plastic material in order to reprocess them into other products, unlike their original form.

Fact 36: Recycled plastic bottles can also be used to make special fleece-like fabrics which are used in blankets and clothes.

  • The line of plastic parkas and puffer jackets can be bought from companies like Adidas, Rothy’s, Girlfriend Collective, and mainstream H&M.

Fact 37: Microplastics have even penetrated the Mariana Trench, the planet’s deepest trough.

  • These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe including Mount Everest.

Fact 38: Low-income communities face more health problems by living near plastic production sites.

  • These communities have greater exposure to toxins and waste, and bear the brunt of the impacts of improper plastic disposal and incineration.

Fact 39: Most animal deaths that are related to plastic are generally caused by the animal being tangled up in the water, or starving because they cannot eat. 

  • Seals, whales, turtles, and other animals are strangled by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings every year. 

Fact 40: Bioplastics are not as green as they seem.

  • Though companies often market Bioplastics under the ‘green’ idea, these products are not necessarily biodegradable and may require very specific conditions to break down.   

Fact 41: Fortunately, zero waste supermarkets are popping up in various cities in several countries.

  • These include cities in the UK, Germany, Canada, the United States, Mexico, South Africa and more.

Fact 42: People living along rivers and coastlines in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are the ones most affected by plastic pollution.

  •  These countries, however, are also the top contributors to plastic pollution. 

Fact 43: The floating plastic pieces in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, outnumbers the existing sea life six to one.

  • Being so big it’s difficult to guess accurately how much plastic or bits of microscopic plastic is really there. It’s even harder when literally tons of plastics are added every day. 

Fact 44: Plastics have also been consumed by terrestrial animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals, and in some cases cause death.

  • Tests have also confirmed liver and cell damage and disruptions to reproductive systems of these animals. 

Fact 45: There are more pieces of microplastics in the world’s oceans than there are stars in our galaxy. 

  • In one scientific study, it was estimated there are between fifteen and fifty-one trillion individual pieces of microplastic in the world’s oceans. By comparison, there are 400 billion stars in our galaxy.

Fact 46: 60% of the plastic in the ocean comes from either China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand or Vietnam.

  • These countries are all developing at a rapid rate, which means an uptake in the amount of single-use plastics that they use.

Fact 47: China is now the world’s biggest consumer of bottled water. 

  • Bottled water sales in China have exploded in recent years, up from $1 billion in 2000 to more than $14 billion in 2014.

Fact 48: Mechanical systems, such as ‘Mr. Trash Wheel’, a litter interceptor in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor, is able to pick up large pieces of plastic.

  • However, once plastics break down into microplastics and drift throughout the water column in the open ocean, they are virtually impossible to recover.

Fact 49: It has been estimated recently that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may contain about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, and weighs around 80,000 tons – although these numbers are likely to change daily.

  • One study claims there are 334,721 pieces of plastic per square kilometre. 

Fact 50: ‘The Ocean Cleanup’ is described as ‘the biggest cleanup in history’. 

  • Using advanced technology, the project aims to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every 5 years.   


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