Tonnes of Plastic Missing From the Ocean – Where is it all going?

The amount of plastic that has accumulated over the past 60 years has been extensive. It is used so often due to its durability and cheap manufacturing processes, allowing large businesses to use it extensively. However, plastics convenience comes at a cost to the environment. Our intense consumption and rapid and inappropriate disposal processes have meant that our environment has had to pay the price.

There are high concentrations of floating plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic but due to oceanic circulation sequences, we can assume that floating plastic can be found in all five subtropical gyres.

Surface water plastic is the most documented and researched issue today because it shows up on beaches and we see it regularly affecting the marine life in mammals, fish, and seabirds from ingestion or from choking.

Biome Eco Stores - Zero Waste, Toxin Free, Ethical Choices

What is Micro-Plastic?

What is less common however is the talk of microplastic, which also floats amongst the larger pieces of plastic. It dominates most of the surface water plastic pollution and it is smaller than 0.5mm in diameter.

Microplastic is resulted from breaking off from larger pieces of plastic over time. This is how plastic slowly degrades, by undergoing fragmentation, which is a consequence of mechanical breakdown from waves and photochemical processes initiated by UV-B light.

There have been studies showing how much microplastic is in the ocean and the extent of its occupancy but there is still so much we do not understand about the potential impacts it will have on our environment and marine life.

Microplastics are likely the most numerically abundant items of plastic debris in the ocean today, and their numbers will inevitably increase, in part due to large, single plastic items ultimately degrading into millions of microplastic pieces.

 

Missing Plastic?

A 2014 study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Open Science, suggested that surface water plastic accumulation was tens of thousands of tonnes less than expected, as well as, knowing that from historical time series of surface plastic concentration in fixed ocean regions, shows no increasing trends since the 1980’s, despite their increase in production and disposal.

The members of the study, therefore, acknowledged that more research into finding out where this missing plastic is going, an utmost important issue.

What studies are slowly discovering is that microplastics are ending up in the deep sea which is being described as acting as a ‘sink’ for microplastic.

In fact, it is not just a little bit of plastic ending up in the deep sea but studies have found 4 orders of magnitude of microplastic in these sinks than in surface waters.

You would think that because plastic is buoyant, it would not sink even if they are broken into many pieces. Typically, high-density plastics (e.g., polyvinyl chlorides, polyester) settle out of the water column, whereas low-density plastics (e.g., polyethylene, polystyrene) remain buoyant, although can be affected by freshwater inputs, storms, and biofilm formation which may result in vertical mixing.

Because of numerous studies on the whereabouts of microplastics, it has been realized that microplastics have invaded the marine environment to an extent that they are present throughout the all world’s oceans and now finding, including its depths.

And in these deep-sea depths, there are many diverse organisms in fragile habitats that have come into contact with human waste and have been found by a study, to ingest microplastics. 

This really is one of humanity’s biggest mistakes.

Arctic Sea Ice Dangers

In addition to the deep sea, the first study of its kind conducted in 2009 and published in the Journal of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences, found plastic debris in the Arctic Sea Ice.

This was the first study of its kind in the Arctic and they were astonished at how much microplastic they found, ranging from 38 to 234 particles per cubic meter of ice.

This is several orders of magnitude greater than the microplastic found in the Atlantic waters north of Scotland or in waters of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

 

What these scientists are worried about is the release of these microplastics to the marine environment. Global warming has substantially increased the Arctics ice melting which will facilitate their release. The scientists, among others in this field, all state that they are concerned about how little they know in regards to the potential impacts microplastics are going to have as they continue to be released into our oceans.

As a point of interest, Rayon was the most found plastic, this is a plastic fiber commonly used in clothing and is released into the ocean when we wash our clothes.


Read More Here: Bamboo Clothing Brands – Are They Really Eco-Friendly?

Zooplankton Ingestion of Plastic

A study conducted in 2015 and published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology was used to help the world understand the potential dangers our environment is undergoing by observing zooplankton ingest microplastic: Whether they do, how, and if it affects them.

Zooplankton is at the bottom of the food chain, so they play a large part in the potential dispersal and transportation of harmful chemicals in the ocean via the food chain, affecting their predators, their own health and, reproduction.

From their study, they were able to confirm the ingestion of microplastics is feasible with zooplankton. The plastic chemicals that are ingested might be considered endocrine-disruptors, carcinogenic or toxic, with symptoms occurring in their growth, sexual reproduction, morbidity, and mortality.

Potential impacts zooplankton consuming plastic include:

  • Reduced function and health of the individual,
  • Trophic-transfer of contaminants to predators (moving up the food chain), and
  • The egestion of fecal pellets containing microplastics.

 

 

Microplastics harm to marine life is likely going to increase due to plastics continually getting smaller and being able to be consumed by all marine life forms.

Unfortunately,  we still do not know the size distributions, generation and degradation rates or the resulting effects on marine life it will have.

Although quantities can be low, the widespread incidence in some natural populations, together with evidence of potentially harmful effects, is cause for concern.

Again, more research is needed in plastic contamination and the extent of its impact.

 

 

What Can We Do To Help?

The moral of the story is that it is imperative for more research to be done in this sector; to find out how microplastic gets into the deep sea or the Arctic, and, the potential impacts it will have on the environment, marine life and our health.

We can help by discontinuing our single-use culture.

We have grown up in a world where it is okay to use things once and immediately throw it away. Extensive resources, chemicals, land and, water were used to make these products, therefore everything has an ecological footprint.

It is amazing to see so many brands working to provide us with eco-alternatives to almost anything! Our job as a consumer is to support them and tell them what we want.

After all, consumers have the power to make a change, that’s why it is important to remember your purchases, choices or actions DO make a difference.

You are being a part of a positive movement!

Thank you for reading this blog and please feel free to comment below your thoughts on this issue and what you think are great ways we can help.

 

 

Yours Truly,

 

Danielle Packer

The Earth Co.

 

References:

Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Fileman, E., Halsband, C., Goodhead, R., Moger, J. and Galloway, T.S., 2013. Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton. Environmental science & technology, 47(12), pp.6646-6655.

Irigoien, X., Navarro, S. and Ruiz, A., 2017. Plastic debris in the open ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Oceanservice.noaa.gov. (n.d.). NOAA Ocean Podcast: Ocean Garbage Patches. [online] Available at: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast/mar18/nop14-ocean-garbage-patches.html [Accessed 15 Aug. 2018].

Thompson, R.C., Moore, C.J., Vom Saal, F.S. and Swan, S.H., 2009. Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), pp.2153-2166.

The Indian Wire. (2018). Seafood companies discarding plastic and other fishing equipments in oceans, killing marine life – The Indian Wire. [online] Available at: https://www.theindianwire.com/science/seafood-companies-discarding-plastic-fishing-equipments-oceans-killing-marine-life-52176/ [Accessed 15 Aug. 2018].

Thompson, R.C., Olsen, Y., Mitchell, R.P., Davis, A., Rowland, S.J., John, A.W., McGonigle, D. and Russell, A.E., 2004. Lost at sea: where is all the plastic?. Science, 304(5672), pp.838-838.Shim,

W.J. & Thomposon, R.C. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol (2015) 69: 265. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-015-0216-x

Van Cauwenberghe, L., Vanreusel, A., Mees, J. and Janssen, C.R., 2013. Microplastic pollution in deep-sea sediments. Environmental Pollution, 182, pp.495-499.

Woodall, L.C., Sanchez-Vidal, A., Canals, M., Paterson, G.L., Coppock, R., Sleight, V., Calafat, A., Rogers, A.D., Narayanaswamy, B.E. and Thompson, R.C., 2014. The deep sea is a major sink for microplastic debris. Royal Society open science, 1(4), p.140317.

 

 

26 thoughts on “Tonnes of Plastic Missing From the Ocean – Where is it all going?

  1. Fantastic article and a must read for all. It’s really time as a world to start doing our part to prevent this. Today it seems as people just don’t care what we’re doing to our planet.
    Leaving plastic anywhere they are instead of recycling or disposing of it properly.
    I will be sharing your link with many to help spread the word and I think many need to see your website.
    Thank you,
    David

    1. Yes, sometimes I think that too. A lot of people don’t care but maybe it is because they are unaware of the damage they are causing. Hopefully more schools will teach kids from a young age about things such as this. Thank you for your support, you clearly are for looking after our world. 🙂

  2. I feel this problem very much. I m so angry that with all the technology we have nowadays we are still polluting environment like that. By the way I ve heard there was a few movement of people that was working to clean up, but I don t know if they are still active.Thank you for share

    1. Thanks for commenting Andrea! Yes, it makes me angry too but I am sure the world is slowly but surely going to start thinking the way we do! I think I know what movement you are talking about concerning cleaning up the ocean, it is so exciting!!

  3. I always knew pollution was an issue, but I thought by now we had something in place to prevent most of it. “the most deadly pollution’s anyway” With the advancement in today’s science you would think so. At least I would think so! My wife and I have always taught our children to recycle plastic items properly. This is an article everyone should read!

    Thank you

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jaywhon! Yes, you would think with today’s knowledge and technology we would have prevented this from happening a long time ago. But there are inventions that are occurring to clean up the ocean and then it is up to us to reduce plastic use to it doesn’t keep occurring. However, the microplastics that are already present in our oceans are pretty impossible to clean up! So that is very concerning.

  4. Wow this article os fantastic! A couple years back I was doing an paper about the plastic build up over in the pacific ocean, and it never occured to me about what is going to happen as the sun beats down on all of that plastic.

    While the idea of changing our habits of single use items sounds great, I personally didn’t feel like that was something that can be done on a global scale. Sure you might have a company like Starbucks getting rid of their straws and thats great, but the scale of the problem is just too big.

    I personally think the best solution is to just replace as much of our one time use plastics into plant-based hydro-biodegradeable plastics. These biodegradeable plastics can break down fairly quick, and at a faster rate than plastics floating in the ocean.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Tony!
      Yes, I do agree with you Tony, to the fact that our single-use culture is very worldwide and on a massive scale! Swapping them with biodegradable options is a great solution especially for places that NEED single-use items like hospitals and in science laboratories. However, in other areas, there are so many ways we can re-use items like we did about 60 years ago before the invention of plastic 🙂

  5. Hey Danielle 🙂 It’s comforting to know that someone like you would write an article about something that is getting out of hand, literally. It’s disgusting to see plastics and such in the ocean and everywhere else in nature. I never remember this when I was growing up. But then again, maybe I was oblivious to it back then, but not now. We need to clean up right now! What’s the one biggest thing that is affecting the environment now that’s making it difficult to address? Anything in particular?Thanks Danielle 🙂
    ~Rob

    1. Well, interestingly plastic is actually quite a new thing! 60 years in fact! But now due to the population increasing and our single-use culture growing, more plastic is being produced than ever before which is very scary to think! But there are very smart people out there trying to clean the mess up, a boy called Rogan has invented the machine to clean up the larger pieces of plastic and it is estimated that in, from the top of my head, 1 year to clean half the worlds plastic in the ocean. Additional to that, it is also up to us consumers to reduce plastic usage and start using biodegradables or reusable items.

  6. Thank you for writing this post and bringing more awareness. Plastic in our oceans and lakes has been bothering me for some time, and I keep reading more and more articles about it. It is so sad to see photos of beaches covered in plastic garbage and sea creatures trapped in beer can rings.

    I have purchased reusable zip storage bags and stainless steel straws. I am going to purchase more reusable items like produce bags. I have used cloth shopping bags for years.

    So many products have been created to make life easier but they are turning into products that are harming us, like PVC, BPA, pesticides (Monsanto = evil) and more.

    1. Wow, you go girl! I love how you are so open to doing what you can to help reduce your plastic usage, it is so important we do what we can. Yes, it is getting easier to find alternatives to plastic, soon it will be a thing of the past, I am sure of it, especially with people like you helping! <3

  7. Hey Danielle:

    I do agree that as consumers we can cast our own vote by choosing products (and packaging) that doesn’t continue to add to an already-gnarly problem.

    Companies do pay attention when the money goes away! More and more are trying to find alternatives that will appeal to those of us who are trying to live more sustainable and humane lives.

    1. Thanks for commenting Netta! This is very true that we have brought this issue upon ourselves and only started to make changes when the issue has already affected marine life and the environment. But never late then never! 😉

  8. That was quite a good information to digest!

    I never thought that even our own clothes can harm our environment without even disposing them aside from those tiny particles in toothpaste, soap and shampoo. How do we know if our cloths have that hazardous “rayon” material?

    Here in Japan, some supermarkets charge consumers if they use disposable plastics. I chose to bring inside my bag a reusable bag for groceries. In this way, I don’t only save some pennies, but I greatly contribute to the preservation of our home. The only place in the galaxy where we can live – Our Mother Earth. 🙂

    1. Hey, BisayangInvestor! Rayon is a semi-synthetic fibre. It feels very soft, trying to imitate natural fibers such as cotton. It should say on the tag what the clothing was made from, otherwise, on brand websites, they should state what the material is made of.
      That is terrific to hear that you are making an effort to bring your reusable bag! It makes such a difference and I am glad to hear supermarkets are making these rules, it helps push consumers into a new way of life. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Great article and very sad and disheartening topic. Living by the ocean I’m aware of how much rubbish is constantly being swept off to sea, but I guess that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
    Here in Australia the big supermarkets have only now adopted the policy of not using single-use plastic bags anymore, but they are still using the thicker kind of plastic bags, so I’m not sure if that is really enough.
    Unfortunately, Australia seems to be a bit behind in terms of looking after environment, our politicians just seem to have the big dollar signs in their eyes.

    1. Hey Petra! I am from Australia too and yes the supermarkets changing to reusable plastic bags is great! Even though Coles is a little behind haha. I am sure they will catch up as public pressure always wins!
      I do understand your frustration with our politicians, as environmental conservation is not a top priority for them! Hopefully us, consumers can lead the change we want to see in the world!

  10. Wow, I had no idea the rayon in our clothing leaked into oceans. I knew there was plastic being dumped into oceans, but micro plastics? Your blog is an eye opener. and many people need to see this. I don’t think many people really write about the total effect of plastics in our oceans. I’ve stopped using plastics for quite sometime, but haven’t fully quit. This has really swayed me into moving away from all of that. I will be way more conscious of that now than I was before. Thank you for this!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Catherine! Yes, there is so much information out there, but also a lot of questions that scientists are still needing to uncover. You sound like you really care about doing your part in helping our world become a better place and that is very encouraging to see! Thanks for doing your bit 🙂

  11. Hi Danielle, i’ve got round to visiting you after you left me a comment. What a great blog!

    I worked for 37 years in the plastics industry, in PVC manufacture. Things have changed greatly within the industry over that time, including great strides to make things more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Our major applications were with things like window frames, building products and cabling.

    I retired in 2016, but I could see then that plastics were coming under more and more pressure from enviromentalists, and the scale of the problem is now only too evident. It was scant ‘reward’ that most problems were from Polyethylene products rather than PVC. In the eyes of the public, it’s all just ‘Plastic’.

    I’m also a weather watcher, getting into weather in the mid-1970’s. I can’t believe the human race can be so arrogant as to think they aren’t doing derogatory things to our climate. The naysayers claim that temperature records have been tampered with to show warming trends where none really exist. I say, just look to nature for the evidence you need. It’s overwhelming.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting dkohara! I really appreciate your insight into the plastic world, especially from someone who use to work in the industry! That is great to hear the plastic industry are trying to be more environmentally friendly, but yes unfortunately the problem is just becoming overwhelming, too much for our world to handle. Plastic’s overall must cease to exist if we are to protect our oceans especially.
      I agree with you, just looking at the crazy weather conditions all over the world, is evident enough to suggest climate change it upon us already.

  12. Hi Danielle, Many thanks for another great article. It’s very concerning that the majority of the Earths population have no respect for the outstanding nature that we are gifted with and call our home. We will get what we deserve as a species, and even then many will cry “we don’t deserve this.” However, we deserve all the consequences of our reckless destruction of this beautiful planet.
    To those who get angry about what they see, this does not help the situation and only helps to lower our own energy. A better response may be to lead by example and start cleaning up our own backyards. As you point out, there are some environmentally friendly alternatives available and many more coming into the marketplace regularly now.
    I wish you lot’s of success in getting this important message out to those who need it the most!
    Kind regards
    Andrew

    1. Hey, Andrew! Thank you for such a thoughtful comment! It is quite scary what we have done to our earth and we all need to work together to fix and cease our current processes that bring significant harm to our home. Yes, there is no point in just getting angry, we’ve got to take action instead and inspire each other!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *