Plastic caused the most excruciating experience of Richard Pain’s life, when at age six he burnt his hand on a molten ice cream container. His pet peeve is single-use disposable plastics – particularly the plastic water bottle – which he considers a blight on the face of the planet.
Yet the rest of the world’s love affair with this non-biodegradable menace is growing. Since 1964, when Richard was born, plastic production has increased by almost 20,000%.
IT’S BIG. AND GETTING BIGGER.
Every year we produce over 300 million tonnes of plastic worldwide. Almost half of it is single-use disposable plastic or packaging. And every year, 10 to 20 million tonnes of plastic makes its way into the ocean – 10% in the form of plastic bottles.
Globally, 500 billion plastic bottles (that’s 70 for every person on Earth!) are used and discarded each year. Of these, 15 to 30 billion are estimated to end up in the ocean.
SO WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL THIS PLASTIC?
Some plastic bottles sink to the bottom of the ocean. Some get caught in undersea currents, where erosion breaks them down into bite sized chunks. Others float on the surface, where the energy of the sun photo-degrades them into micro-plastic.
THAT CAN’T BE GOOD RIGHT?
Definitely not, scientists agree it’s killing sea life. Here’s just some of the harm that broken down plastic causes:
Seabirds can die from the ingestion of small plastic chunks, which they mistake for food, and which blocks their digestive tracts. Mothers have also been known to regurgitate plastic chunks into the mouths of their hungry chicks.
The same holds for fur seals and pygmy sperm whales.
As well as sea turtles, which also find themselves tangled in that other scourge of the seas – plastic bags.
Floating plastic bottles can also introduce foreign microorganisms into other regions, causing massive disruption to the indigenous marine environment.
Some scientists also theorize micro-plastics enter the marine food chain at its lowest level by being absorbed by such species as krill – on which small fish feed. The small fish are eaten by the big fish, which are caught and eaten by humans – potentially introducing plastic toxins into our bodies.