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Ocean Plastic Pollution Reaches ‘Unprecedented’ Levels

Ocean Plastic Pollution Reaches ‘Unprecedented’ Levels

If you haven’t heard, our oceans are a bit of a mess right now.

According to a new study from PLOS ONE, there’s an estimated 171 trillion plastic particles polluting our waters. That’s the equivalent of around 2.3 million tons of plastic. If you’re thinking that’s a lot of plastic, you’re absolutely right. But the bad news doesn’t end there. The study also found that plastic pollution has rapidly and unprecedentedly increased since 2005.

So, how did we get here? The answer is simple: plastic production has soared in recent decades, and waste management systems have not kept up. Shockingly, only around nine percent of global plastics are recycled each year, meaning the rest ends up in our oceans. This includes plastic from land that might be swept into rivers and carried out to sea, as well as lost or discarded fishing gear.

The problem is that once plastic is in the ocean, it doesn’t decompose. Instead, it breaks down into tiny particles that are difficult to clean up. This means that marine life can easily mistake it for food or get entangled in it. Plastic can also leach toxic chemicals into the water, creating a dangerous environment for all living creatures.

But it’s not just the environment that’s at risk. Plastic is also a huge climate problem. Fossil fuels are used to produce most plastics, and they produce planet-heating pollution throughout their lifecycle.

So, what can we do about it? The study’s authors are calling for urgent international policy intervention. This is a complex issue, but one thing is clear: we need solutions that have teeth. The United Nations has agreed to create a legally binding global plastics treaty by 2024, which would address the whole life of plastics from production to disposal. However, there are big divisions over whether this should include cuts in plastic manufacturing, which is predicted to quadruple by 2050.

Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator and now-president of Beyond Plastics, believes that policies to reduce the amount of plastic produced in the first place are the only real solution. Companies are continuing to find new ways to pump more plastics into the market, making it impossible to curb the amount of plastic contaminating our oceans.

“New research is always helpful, but we don’t need to wait for new research to take action,” Enck said. “The problem is already painfully clear, in the plastic accumulating in our oceans, air, soil, food and bodies.”




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