Pollution From Toxic Plastic Endangers Vast Swathes of the Ocean, Even the Deepest Trenches
It’s as if a new garbage truck dumped a load of plastic waste into the ocean every minute of every day. 12 million tons of new garbage a year, accumulating across the seas and at every level. Billions of tons of plastic fragments and trash now take up about 40% of the ocean’s area.
You have probably heard of vast “gyres” of decomposing plastic located in six places around the planet, concentrating plastic garbage into swirling marine cyclones of waste the size of Texas (as they like to say). These gyres don’t photograph well because they lie just below the surface, and the plastic pieces are tiny. Think of them as a semi-transparent toxic soup. But these “garbage patches” are just the tip of the toxic iceberg.
Plastic has now made its way to every part of the global oceans, from river estuaries to the deepest trenches in the middle of the sea.
What humans forget about plastic is that it started out as toxic substance and ends up that way. When plastic waste goes into the waters of the ocean, which support countless forms of sea life – from microscopic to blue whales – it kills the marine animals at all levels:
Plastic kills marine life several ways:
1. Chemical poisoning
2. Physical entanglement – drowning
3. Tainting the food supply
Whales, for example, succumb to all of these causes. They become entangled in plastic bags and other packaging and are unable to function. They ingest toxic chemicals generated by the breakdown of plastic trash, poisoning their milk and thus their calves.
A 2016 survey in the Mediterranean showed extremely high concentrations of phthalates in the body tissue of beached whales and dolphins. Phthalates are found in packaging, shower curtains, medicines, perfume and household chemicals. but also in cosmetics like nail polish, hairspray, perfume. The centration was 1060 µg/kg, about three times the level considered “high”.
Phthalates are toxic for both humans and animals in several ways, especially in the areas of fertility and fetus development. Humans make about 3 million tons of it a year and a lot of it ends up in the ocean.
Other marine life, particularly birds, swallow debris thinking it is food. Enough of it fill their gullets and kills them.
In spite of “recycling” efforts in some parts of the world, an incredible amount of this waste ends up in waterways, whence to the seas. In Los Angeles it is estimated that 10 tons of plastic fragments from grocery bags and bottles are swept into the Pacific daily.
The oceans are enduring a slow death from warming temperatures as it is. Considering the rate at which water absorbs and retains heat, it is no actually possible for this trend to be reversed in our lifetimes. The addition of millions of tons of plastic is only hastening the total disruption of the web of life.