Consequences for the environment

  • On all beaches around the world you find washed up plastic. Even in the most remote places you encounter plastic, also in places that until recently were thought of as pristine and untouched.
  • Plastic does not decompose, but it does eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces. The smaller the pieces, the more difficult it is to clean them up.
  • Plastic at sea is difficult to clean up in an efficient way. It either floats on or in water, sinks to the bottom or washes up on coastlines.
  • Animals cannot always distinguish between food and plastic. Animals, on land or at sea, can become entangled in plastic.
  • Plastic particles in the ocean absorb toxins (so called POPs, Persistent Organic Pollutants) like a sponge. It is unclear to what extent these toxins are absorbed in the organs and tissues of animals and how harmful this potentially can be. It is feared that toxins find their way into the food chain. People are at the top of that food chain.
  • According to UNEP, the United Nations environmental arm, the reported number of animal species that suffers the consequences of plastic has risen from 247 in 1997 to 663 in 2012.
  • Seabirds transport thousands of kilos of plastic every year. Plastic that is defecated contributes to the proliferation of plastic.
  • 75% of all debris at sea is plastic and polystyrene.
  • 36% of researched fish or consumption caught in the English Channel had plastic in their stomachs. 83% of crayfish researched in Norway had plastic fibres. Nearly 100% of the fulmars have plastic in their stomachs.
  • In one decade the number of animals entangled in plastic has risen by 40%.
  • In 1992 a container lost 30.000 rubber ducks at sea near China. The ducks have spread around the world and still wash up today. It shows the long routes that plastic can travel at sea.
  • Beaches are being cleaned up (out of necessity) around the world. In 2012 close to 20.000 miles were cleaned by over 500.000 volunteers during the International Coastal Cleanup. The total weight of the collected waste equalled 10 Boeing 747s.
  • Mechanical cleanups of beaches can cause damage, for example to the nests of turtles.
  • Removing all plastic from the oceans seems an impossible task, but cleaning up the larger pieces that have not yet degraded into smaller pieces along coasts, on beaches and around river mouths is always meaningful.
  • Debris originating from Japan as a consequence of the 2011 tsunami has travelled the ocean as a kind of floating island of waste and is washing up on the west coast of the USA.
  • Species that do not belong in certain regions can get a ‘ride’ on plastic and other floating debris. As invasive species they can have a harmful effect on ecosystems.
  • Eventually all the plastic at sea will break down into countless small particles. Those particles will find their way through the entire maritime ecosystem and end up at the bottom of the sea. There they will have an effect on life in the benthic zone, until such time they are covered, after many centuries, by new layers of earth deposits.
  • The oceans cover 75% of the earth’s surface. They are vital importance for life on earth.


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