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What is Ahead — Plastic Oceans

March 1, 2015
Plain English Version


The numbers are staggering. Every year eight million metric tons of plastic waste makes its way into the world’s oceans. An expert said, “That is five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”

A new study said that by the year 2025, that number would rise to 10 bags for every foot of coastline.

China is the worst offender. It produces 3.5 million metric tons of marine debris each year. The United States produces only 110, 000 metric tons of marine waste each year.

An important difference is waste management. Americans produce 2.6 kilograms of waste per person per day. China produces 1.10 kilograms per person per day. However, better American waste systems mean that much less of the U.S. debris finds its way into the ocean.

Masses of junk have been seen floating where ocean currents come together. Debris can be found on the remotest beaches and in arctic sea ice. The debris shreds into tiny pieces. They become coated with toxic substances like PCBs and other pollutants.

Fish and other organisms eat the bite-size particles and may reabsorb the toxic substances. Those fish in turn are eaten by other fish, and by people.

It may not be possible to clean up the plastic. Most of it drops to the bottom of the ocean. The job is to stop the flow of plastic before it gets into the ocean.

Dealing with oceans of plastic is clearly a man-made challenge.

Source: The New York Times February 12, 2015

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