Originally Published on April 21, 2020. Last Updated on May 13, 2022.
Whether you’re marveling at its beauty from the comfort of your deck or exploring the waters during a day at the beach, the ocean is one of nature’s most beautiful sights. But the sea isn’t indestructible. Each year, eight million metric tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean, wreaking havoc on the oceanic ecosystem. Here are four astonishing facts about how much plastic is in the ocean and the dangers it imposes on our planet.
By 2050, There Could Be More Plastic in the Ocean than Fish by Weight
Water is essential to the survival of all life as we know it. The oceans span three-fourths of the planet’s surface, which is 99% of the living space on Earth by volume. The United Nations states that over three billion people rely on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. The UN also reports as much as 40% of the ocean area is severely polluted. Plastic pollution has been steadily increasing since 1990. It already significantly affects ocean biodiversity, and that will continue to be the case if we keep sullying the waters with plastic litter.
According to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in partnership with the World Economic Forum, plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish by 2050. Eight million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the sea every year — the equivalent weight of approximately 57,000 blue whales or one full garbage truck being dumped into the ocean every minute.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Bigger than Texas and 3X the Size of France
To say there’s a lot of plastic in the ocean would be an understatement. There’s so much junk in the sea, five garbage patches —accumulation zones of marine debris — have been formed across the world. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex — is the biggest one of them all.
Located in the North Pacific Ocean, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of two parts. The Western Garbage Patch is situated near Japan, while the Eastern Garbage Patch is located between California and Hawaii. These two patches are linked together by a gyre — a large, slow-moving whirlpool in the ocean. The circular motion of the gyre sucks debris into the gyre’s center, adding to the garbage patch.
Scientists estimate that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is around 1.6 million square kilometers, which is twice the size of Texas and three times the size of France. They also estimate that the patch comprises 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, which weighs more than 80,000 tonnes. That’s six times as heavy as The Brooklyn Bridge!
You might be thinking there’s a mountain of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean, but that’s not the case. Even though there are larger items like fishing gear, a lot of the plastic gets broken down into tiny pieces called microplastics, making the patch look more like a cloudy soup of debris.
Humans Might Be Consuming Thousands of Microplastic Particles Each Year
Most plastic littered in the ocean is non-biodegradable, which means it can stay in the water for thousands of years. As mentioned before, plastic can break down into small pieces the size of plankton called microplastics. These particles are known to collect harmful bacteria and chemical pollutants such as DDT and PCBs. Fish and other marine life often mistake microplastic for food, accidentally ingesting it. So the next time you eat seafood, there’s a possibility you’re exposing yourself to these toxins.
A recent study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology suggests that humans could be consuming anywhere from 39,000 to 52,000 particles of microplastics every year. This intake isn’t just from eating seafood, either. The research team examined existing studies that found microplastics in everyday foods such as sugar, honey, and salt. Tap water and bottled water also contain thousands of microplastic particles. Additionally, they only examined 15% of the foods in an average diet, meaning the amount of microplastic ingestion could be much higher.
There’s so much plastic around the world that we’re also breathing in tens of thousands of microplastics. When inhalation is added to the mix, the number of microplastics humans ingest each year could be between 74,000 to 121,000.
So what are the impacts microplastics have on your body? Ultimately, more research is needed to understand the correlation between microplastic exposure and human health. However, studies from both John Hopkins University and King’s College London suggest that an accumulation of microplastics over time could be toxic.
There are More Than 500 Dead Zones in Oceans Around the World
Dead zones are oxygen-depleted — or hypoxic — areas in the ocean. These bodies of water don’t provide enough oxygen to support the lives of many organisms, turning these areas into an oceanic wasteland.
Human pollution from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff is the main cause of dead zones. As a result, it leads to a process called eutrophication. Eutrophication occurs when a body of water receives too many nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. This extreme richness in nutrients provokes an overgrowth of blue-green algae — or cyanobacteria. Too much algae diminishes water quality and degrade estuarine and coastal ecosystems. Eutrophication also yields carbon dioxide, which slows down the growth of shellfish, crabs, corals, and other sea life.
The excessive amount of marine pollution has created over 500 oceanic dead zones. Together, it covers more than 245,000 km2 globally, which is roughly the same size as the United Kingdom. Since the 1960s, the number of dead zones has doubled every decade, and it looks like it’ll continue to grow.
Right now, the Gulf of Oman, which connects the Arabian Sea to the Persian Gulf, is home to the world’s largest dead zone. In a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers estimate that the dead zone measures at around 63,000 square miles — roughly the size of Florida.
What Can You Do to Keep Plastic Out of the Ocean?
These facts are eye-opening, to say to the least. However, you can still make a difference in cleaning up the oceans through small changes in your everyday life. There’s that saying, “think globally, act locally.” Remember always to keep that phrase and these helpful solutions in mind when it comes to reducing your plastic footprint.
OPT FOR A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE — More than 60 million bottles end up in landfills every day. Get a reusable water bottle to not only save on waste but also your money.
VOLUNTEER — Do some research to see if there are any clean-up opportunities in your community.
CONTACT YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT — Write an email or letter to your representatives about passing policies to improve waste management infrastructure.
RECYCLE — It seems obvious, but according to National Geographic, 91% of plastic doesn’t get recycled. Always ensure your plastic gets thrown away in the recycling bin, even if it’s an inconvenience.
GET ECO-FRIENDLY PRODUCTS — Make sure the products you buy are made with both ethics and the environment in mind. The Ocean Chair will not only make your deck or patio beautiful but also eco-friendly.
With each purchase of The Ocean Chair, or any chair from their Wave Collection, POLYWOOD will transform 1,000+ ocean-bound plastic bottles into long-lasting outdoor furniture!
What do you do to help reduce plastic waste? Let us know in the comments down below!