Plastic bags, bottles and many other wastes are causing widespread harm to marine and coastal ecosystems — they kill massive numbers of marine animals (including 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals annually in one widely cited estimate), degrade their environment, and enter the food chain. A recent study in Marine Policy on ocean debris showed that a plastic bag was located nearly seven miles below the surface in the Mariana Trench.
Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by it. Some are harmed visibly—strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings.
The May 24 OECD report cites data showing that worldwide, just 14 to 18 percent of waste plastics are recycled, 24 percent is thermally treated, the rest is disposed of in landfills, open burning, or gets into the environment via “uncontrolled dumping” and other means.
Plastic pollution is emerging as one of the most serious threats to ocean ecosystems, and world leaders, scientists, and communities recognize the need for urgent management measures for the sustainability of marine ecosystems.
The damage caused by plastic debris in large animals through accidental ingestion and entanglement in floating plastic and the hazards posed by toxic chemicals released from fragmented plastic on the biological function of marine organisms have been well studied [see science direct report]. Micro-plastic ingested by zooplankton can be transferred to higher trophic level animals, including commercially important fish species, through the food web. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.1 urges the world community to take action to reduce marine pollution by 2025, and one of the indicators to track its progress is the density of floating plastic debris (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/oceans/).
Larger plastic is getting broken into pieces so small they’re hard to see, and they have “potential for large-scale accumulation” in the ocean.
There is no great solution waiting to be found here. Simply, the world needs to collect its trash. We need garbage trucks and help ensuring that waste is collected on a regular basis and landfilled, recycled, or burned so that it doesn’t blow away.
How to pay for this?
A worldwide tax of a penny on every pound of plastic resin manufactured. The tax would raise roughly six billion dollars a year that could be used to finance garbage collection systems in developing nations.