As a packaging supplier, it’s only right that we take a strong interest in how bottles, jars and other packaging is ending up polluting our oceans and environments, causing devastating consequences. Plastic is the key contributor to this crisis, as it is a non-biodegradable material so quite possibly could be floating in our oceans for a thousand years before starting to disintegrate. A worrying prediction from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. It’s up to everybody; both the producers and the consumers of these materials, to ensure that the plastic we use is either disposed of responsibly or recycled. So how does plastic get into the ocean? First, let’s take a look at the grim reality of Planet Earth in 2019.
Shocking Facts About Plastic Pollution
- In 1950, the world produced 1.5 million tonnes of plastic when we had a human population of 2.5 billion. In 2016, the population was 7 billion and we produced over 320 million tonnes of plastic. This number is set to DOUBLE by 2034.
- 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed by plastic pollution every year.
- 73% of all litter on beaches worldwide is made from plastic.
- 2 million plastic bags are used around the world every minute.
- The average plastic bag is used for 12 minutes in its lifetime, but takes up to a thousand years to decompose.
- Of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic that has been produced since the 1950’s, only 9% has been recycled. 12% has been burned for energy, leaving the remaining 79% to go to landfill or pollute our environment.
- Crustaceans and microorganisms living in the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, were found to have ingested plastic.
- 500 million plastic straws are used very day in the United States alone and are not accepted by the majority of recycling programmes.
So How Does Plastic Get Into The Ocean?
We’re not standing at the banks of rivers and on the beach wilfully throwing our waste into the water, so how does plastic get into the ocean?
Litter that has been left on the streets can be carried by strong winds and rain into drainage systems or rivers, which then flow into the sea. It is estimated that rivers around the world carry around 1.15 – 2.41 million tonnes of plastic into the sea each year. This equates to around 100,000 rubbish trucks worth.
2. Household Drainage Systems
Plastic pollution doesn’t just consist of whole plastic packaging items. Micro-plastic particles are found in many types of common household products that people are (wrongly) flushing down the toilet, such as wet wipes and cotton pads. Cosmetic products such as these can contain micro beads, which are plastic micro-particles that are able to seep from the original product when left in water over time. This means that when you flush these products down the toilet, you are inadvertently sending them into the ocean and adding to the plastic pollution problem.
You would think that spillage from ships would be a big factor in the amount of plastic waste in the oceans. However, ships and shipping containers make up only a small proportion of the total ocean plastic waste. This being said, there are some great example of plastic spills from ships that you may have already heard of. In 1992, a shipping container that was sailing from Hong Kong to the United States with 28,000 rubber ducks fell into the sea. The rubber ducks are still being found across the world to this day, with ducks washing up on shores as far afield as Hawaii, Australia, Scotland and Newfoundland!
Raw plastic material is delivered to factories as pellets, known as nurdles. These tiny pellets can easily escape during the production process or during transportation. This results in thousands of nurdles ending up being washed up on UK shorelines every year. Last year, nurdles were found to be polluting nearly three-quarters of UK beaches!
What Can You Do To Reduce Plastic Pollution?
There are brainiacs and boffins all over the world who are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to remove and reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans. As well as this, they are creating new types of plastic that is less harmful to the environment, such as PLA (polylactic acid). This plastic is made from 100% plant material and can be disposed of in an industrial composter!
However, not everybody has this level of scientific intellect, so what can the everyday person do to contribute towards the global effort?
1. Pressure Your Politicians To Make Change
Legislation surrounding the production and disposal of single use plastics is being drafted in countries around the world, but it is moving very slowly. Keep up the pressure on public figures by letting them know how important this issue is. Whether it’s organising a march, signing a petition or writing your MP a letter, let your voice be heard by your representatives! This type of action also helps to get more people involved and spread awareness of the issue.
2. Vote With Your Feet (And Wallet)
The thing that hurts businesses the most is not giving them your custom. No customers = no money! If you start buying products that are packaged in more sustainable and recyclable packaging, that sends a strong message to companies that do not. Once they see their profits start to fall, they will be more inclined to change their business practices and become more environmentally conscious. A large majority of businesses do see sustainability as an important part of their plans going forward and see the benefits that going green offers, including attracting more customers. However there are still a number of companies that are not doing as well as they could. It’s our job as consumers to do research into the companies that we are purchasing products and services from, in order to make a responsible and informed choice.
Look for businesses that offer packaging recycling schemes, donate a portion of their profits to charity or that are simply using more eco-friendly packaging such as glass and cardboard. However you do have to be wary about companies that claim to be ‘green’ but are actually doing very little to change their behaviour. Look out for misleading or vague statements such as ‘sustainably sourced, ‘green’ and ‘non-polluting’. Whilst these are fantastic statements to see on packaging, you need to do some background research into how they are able to put these labels on their brands. It may not be as cut-and-dry as it appears, so use your head!
3. Donate To Worthwhile Charities
There are plenty of charities around the globe that are committed to cleaning up the environment in different ways. Many are lobbying governments a big business to make ecological decisions like the Global Footprint Network. Many are also developing new technologies to actively clean up the huge floating rubbish piles in the oceans like The Ocean Cleanup. If you can spare some cash each month, then why not sign up as a regular donor to one of these charities? It’s one of the easiest ways that you can contribute towards this global effort to reduce pollution, with the least amount of effort required on your end.
If simply setting up a direct debit is too impersonal for you, then there’s always the option of volunteering. No charity is going to turn down the offer of free labour! Contact your local council or community group to see if they’ve got any cleanup days planned, then go along and help out. You could even make some great new friends in the process.
4. Make The Switch To Glass & Cardboard
If you’re a business, then you’ll definitely be aware of the costs involved in making changes to your products and packaging. We know that plastic packaging is cheaper to buy and is often very practical for certain products, such as for squeezy lotion and sauce bottles. However, think of it like this: all the money you might sacrifice to pay for slightly more expensive eco-friendly packaging can be clawed back in increased sales from new customers that you’ve attracted. Glass is a great alternative to plastic, as it gives your brand a sense of luxury, as well as being able to be recycled endlessly without losing any quality!
This big push for eco-friendly schemes is the way that the world is heading and there’s not stopping it now! Either get on board or get off the train!
So, how does plastic get into the ocean? We hope that we’ve helped you answer this question now and given you practical, realistic advice on how you can do your bit for this giant rock hurtling through space that we are all living on!
If you’ve enjoyed this guide, then we think that you’d also like our look at why glass is the best packaging material for pharmaceuticals.