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Sunday June 16, 2024

World Ocean Day: Plastic and ocean, a bad influence

Plastic is the most common form of ocean litter, that can have dangerous effects on marine life

By Web Desk
June 09, 2023
This representational picture shows a child playing by a littered lake. — AFP/File
This representational picture shows a child playing by a littered lake. — AFP/File

Every year on June 8, the United Nations declares it "World Ocean Day" in an effort to encourage sustainable ocean use and protection.

Around 400 million tonnes of plastic goods are manufactured worldwide each year. About half are employed in the production of single-use products, including packing material, cups, and shopping bags.

According to Al-Jazeera, an estimated 8 million to 10 million tonnes of these plastics reach the ocean each year. That would cover an area measuring 11,000 square kilometres (4,250 square miles) if it were flattened to the thickness of a plastic bag. That is comparable to the size of the Bahamas, Jamaica, or Qatar.

At this rate, plastic garbage might cover an area larger than 550,000 square kilometres (212,000 square miles) by 50 years, about equal to that of France, Thailand, or Ukraine.

Plastic's journey to the ocean

Plastics are the most common form of ocean litter, originating from improper waste disposal systems and microplastics, which can be ingested by marine life and cause harm.

Plastics in the form of fishing nets and other marine equipment are also dumped into the ocean by ships and fishing boats.

Besides plastic bags and containers, tiny particles known as microplastics also make their way into the ocean. There are currently between 50 trillion and 75 trillion bits of microplastic in the water.

“These little particles in the ocean were breaking into little pieces and being consumed by the wildlife living there at an almost unimaginable scale. The main problem is that pieces of plastic contain toxic chemicals, and these chemicals are already known to interfere with human and animal hormones," said scientific author and journalist Erica Cirino on Al Jazeera's The Stream show.

"They may cause the accumulation of toxins in the body that may lead to ill effects over time,” she added.

Countries that contribute the most plastic to the ocean

Based on a study published in Science Advances Research in2021, 80 percent of all plastics discovered in the water come from Asia, according to a 2021 study published in Science Advances Research.

More than one-third (36.4%) of the plastic debris in the ocean is thought to have originated in the Philippines, followed by India (12.9%), Malaysia (7.5%), China (7.2%), and Indonesia (5.8%).

These sums exclude waste that is exported abroad and may be more likely to end up in the ocean.

Why is plastic dangerous for marine life?

Polymers, which are extended molecular chains, are the building blocks for synthetic materials like plastics. Typically, these polymers come from natural gas or petroleum.

Plastics' biggest drawback is that they are difficult to biodegrade, which means they can linger in the environment for hundreds of years and cause significant environmental issues.

Plastic waste that enters the ocean floats on the surface for a very long time. They eventually reach the ocean below and are buried there.

One percent of the total amount of plastic in the ocean is found on its surface. The remaining 99 percent consists of minute pieces of plastic that are buried deep.