One of the biggest environmental threats facing our oceans is plastic waste. More than 80% of waste ending up in the ocean is generated on land, with plastic being one of the major contributors. The World Economic Forum reports oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050 if we continue at the current pace.
The problem with ocean plastic waste is widely known through the great pacific garbage patch, a floating island of plastic waste created by currents grouping trash together in one area. It has even been reported a second garbage patch circulating in the southern hemisphere covers an area about a million square miles in size, bigger than the state of Texas, containing over a million tons of plastic.
While these garbage patches are the most visible symptoms of plastic pollution in the ocean, plastic debris has been found in all major oceans, with an estimated 4 to 12 million tons of plastic waste generated on land entering the marine environment yearly.
Most of the plastic in the ocean ends up as microplastics, small fragments of plastic that enter the marine ecosystem in various ways. Microplastics are particles less than five millimeters in size that deteriorate from larger plastic pieces that have entered the oceans, as synthetic materials like plastic degrade by breaking up into smaller pieces rather than decompose as organic materials. As an example, the estimated time for an ordinary plastic bottle to decompose is 450 years.
- The growth of plastic production in the past 65 years has substantially outpaced any other manufactured material, and it is estimated that by 2050 the plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production and 15% of the annual carbon budget globally. A recent report estimated we have made 8.3 billion tons of plastic since 1950 with a CAGR of 8% and accelerating growth due to the rocketing rise in plastic packaging, which accounted for about 42 percent of non-fiber plastic production in 2015. Of all plastic produced 30 percent is still in use, while 70 percent of that plastic has been turned into waste. Of those 70 percent, only 9 percent has been recycled.
In the United States, every second of every day 1,500 plastic bottles are discarded. Americans send more than 38 billion water bottles to landfills every year, the equivalent of 912 million gallons of oil.
Why is bottled water a concern? Here are just a few reasons…
- Making bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. And that’s not even including the oil used for transportation.
- The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes.
- Last year, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled 38.
- Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year.
- The recommended eight glasses of water a day, at U.S. tap rates equals about $.49 per year; that same amount of bottled water is about $1,400.
- Antimony, which is found in PET plastic bottles, in small doses can cause dizziness and depression; in larger doses it can cause nausea, vomiting and death.