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Plastic Garbage in the Ocean

Public domain image from finfeed.com.

A lot of people are talking about the amount of plastic being dumped into the oceans. This plastic can cause problems for ocean life. Anyone with half a brain wants to deal with the problem. However, knowledge about the exact extent of the problem is in short supply. A lot of the reporting in the US media makes it sound like Americans are filling the oceans with plastic bags and straws. This is simply not true and the lack of facts is resulting in bad decisions being made.

The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) has begun a study of the problem entitled MICRO-FATE to determine what happens to the plastic as it ages. It involves a 5-week study aboard a research vessel named the Sonne (German for sun). The trip will travel from Vancouver to Singapore.

We don’t know where the plastic is accumulating and how much is actually accumulating. The little we know comes mainly from computer models and observations from airplanes.

Previously the Helmholz Centre had studied the source of oceanic plastic. Their conlusion was that it comes from ten rivers, eight in Asia (the Yangtze, Indus, Yellow, Hai He, Ganges, Pearl, Amur and Mekong) and two in Africa (the Nile and the Niger). Not surprisingly, the greater the population along the river,the more plastic was dumped in the water.

Efforts to Reduce Plastic in the USA

Some municipal and state government have passed legislation banning plastic shopping bags and straws. 

  • California bans plastic garbage bags.
  • Washington DC bans plastic drinking straws.

Some companies have also established policies to deal with the plastic, some more workable than others.

  • Starbucks got rid of plastic straws but replaced them with plastic lids that contain more plastic than the straws they are intended to replace.

However, even if these efforts successfully reduce the amount of plastic waste generated in America, it will contribute almost nothing to the global problem since Asia and Africa are the main sources.

Sources

Gray, Alex. 90% of plastic polluting our oceans comes from just 10 rivers, 08 Jun 2018  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/90-of-plastic-polluting-our-oceans-comes-from-just-10-rivers/

Occurrence and fate of microplastic in the marine environment, 21 May 2019  https://www.ufz.de/index.php?en=36336&webc_pm=23/2019

Text © 2019 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.

#issues #environment #oceans #seas #plastics #garbage #science

  • Are you concerned about plastic waste in the oceans?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Would you be willing to reduce your personal consumption of plastic if it were discovered that it would help to do so?

    • Yes
    • No

What do you think?

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Written by Gary J Sibio

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8 Comments

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  1. Thank you for the sources and valuable information.
    (ps Maryland charges a nickel if you want a plastic bag at the store).

    the NOAA study focused on the impact of plastic on wildlife, paints a not good story. Whales have washed up on shore having starved to death (ABC News, California) (Sky News Ghana) because of the plastic in their stomachs.

    The reality is, its time to stop using plastic for things that can be reusable. I have worked on reducing my CO2 output as a house owner. I have reduced my plastic consumption. It is painful.

    • 5¢!?! Chicago charges 7¢ and there is talk about Illinois adding more.

      The problem I find with a lot of our conservation efforts is that we often create a worse problem trying to solve a lesser problem. In the early 70s factories built taller smokestacks to make air pollution less of a problem but doing so created the acid rain problem.

      In Chicago we have mandatory recycling but about 80%of of the recycled materials end up in the same dump as the garbage.

      We need solutions that don’t cause worse problems.

  2. Since no immediate adverse effect is felt on one’s actions this will continue – using and dumping plastics. For example If we pinch ourselves it will hurt us and so we will not do that but using plastics and throwing them in the ocean will not immediately hurt is and so we continue That is the sad story.

    • Inaction is just as bad as misdirected action. The problem needs to be dealt with but, based on the data we have, the accusations that the USA is responsible for the problem is completely off-base. People are being lulled into complacency by being told that, if we just give up our plastic straws, the problem will go away. There are things that we (Americans) can do and should do but we also need to attack the problem at the real source.

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