From single-use water bottles to food storage containers and baby toys, we as a society produce and use plastic at a staggering rate.
Though the conversation surrounding the negative environmental impacts of plastic isn’t a new one, ongoing scientific research continues to reveal troubling truths and environmental concerns.
A 2015 study estimated that to date 6,300 million metric tons of plastic waste has been created, 79% of which has accumulated in landfills or the natural environment (Geyer et al., Science Advances, 2017). Once these plastics make their way into our landfills and natural environments, they take anywhere from 450-1000 years to degrade, and our oceans often bear the brunt of this plastic waste. To give an idea of the scale of this problem, the “Pacific Trash Vortex” in the central North Pacific Ocean is the size of Texas, and growing (one of three “plastic islands” in our oceans).
Plastic waste is incredibly problematic for our marine ecosystems for a variety of reasons.
To touch on just one example, as these components are dispersed throughout the marine environment, they not only represent a toxic pollutant but, by their chemical makeup, they absorb still more toxins present in the ocean. As these particles get ingested by lower marine species, the pattern is set in stone. Smaller organisms ingest these particles, then are consumed by larger species, which sets in motion a build-up of these toxins as they move up the food chain. This process, known as “biomagnification”, creates a new level of concern as those larger species are eventually consumed by humans. While biomagnification is just one of the environmental concerns related to plastic, it’s demonstrative of the overwhelming impact of plastics in our natural environment.