The Sunday Supplement: Ocean Plastic

When I wrote last Sunday about Ghost Fishing – discarded fishing equipment in the oceans that causes the needless suffering and death of thousands of fish, dolphins, sharks, whales turtles etc. every year – I nearly lost sight of one statistic that with hindsight is staggering.

Discarded fishing equipment only takes up 10% of the plastic rubbish floating about in the oceans. The problem is so much bigger.

That this is a huge problem was emphasized recently by the appearance of big slabs of polystyrene on ice floes in the Arctic Ocean.

So this Sunday I thought I would look into the more general problem of plastics in the oceans.

Some startling stats

  • An estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year.
  • That’s equivalent to dumping a truck load of plastic rubbish in the seas every minute.
  • Big pieces of plastic choke and entangle turtles and seabirds.
  • Smaller pieces clog the stomachs of creatures who mistake it for food, from tiny zooplankton to whales.
  • Plastic is now entering every level of the ocean food chain and even ending up in the seafood on our plates.

And it lasts (almost) forever

Just compare how long it takes for different materials to degrade in water:

Ocean plastic 1

Ultimately it affects us too

Oceans are fundamental to the health of our planet. They are the very lifeblood of Earth’s ecosystem. To survive and prosper, mankind needs a harmonious relationship with our planet’s oceans.

ocean plastic 2

What can we do?

There are lots of ways we can help; here are just some practical ideas:

1. Reduce our use of single-use plastics

These include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded. This could be by refusing them if offered them, in a shop or restaurant for example, and using reusable versions of these products.

2. Recycle

When we do use single-use (and other) plastics, we need to recycle them if possible. This helps keep them out of the ocean and reduces the amount of “new” plastic in circulation.

3. Avoid microbeads

Tiny plastic particles, called “microbeads,” have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Here is a helpful list of cosmetic products containing microbeads.

4. Support organizations addressing plastic pollution

There are many non-profit organizations working to tackle the problem of ocean plastic pollution in a variety of different ways. Each country has its own organizations so I won’t even try to list them here.

5. Join the Greenpeace campaign to end the flow of plastic into our oceans

Greenpeace is calling on big corporations to act to reduce their plastic footprint – and stop producing excessive plastic packaging that is designed to be used once then thrown away.

For example, Coca-Cola produces an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – and billions of these will end up on beaches, in landfill and in the sea.

Here is an overview of the Greenpeace Coca-Cola campaign. And through this link you can email an pre-prepared letter to the Coca-Cola CEO asking that they take action to address this problem.

6. Pick up garbage and litter near beaches

Much of the plastic and debris found in the ocean has its beginnings in beach litter. As beach crowds increase, so does the amount of trash left behind. Beach clean-ups can be a first step towards cleaner oceans.



  1. Once again we fail to factor in the externalities; to make a full accounting of the costs associated with our activities. You might have thought somebody would have asked the question in the first place: where will this plastic end up? Our only hope is that by facing up to these catastrophic problems we might end up living more sustainably. But as with climate change, I believe we are all guilty. How many people do you know that cut plastic out of their life style? I’m feeling depressed about the future of the human race😯

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It always amazes me when I see discarded rubbish. Why can’t people put their litter in a bin, or even better just take it home? In many of our national parks there are no bins, just notices reminding people to take their rubbish with them. I rarely see any litter left behind. It’s the same on our beaches. Hopefully your articles will help to remind us about our responsibilities Denzil.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so important and I’m glad that it’s becoming the big news story it is. We recycle everything we can, use re-usable coffee cups and water bottles and bags for life, but there’s always more to do. The charge for plastic carrier bags in the UK seems to have made a big difference to use of carrier bags here, but interestingly in the coffee shop chain I go to each morning, the assistant told me that I’m one of only two regulars who use the re-usable cups, despite the fact you pay less for a coffee by using one.

    Liked by 1 person

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