The number of people has grown around the world. The estimate is the world’s people created 275 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2010. Of this, some eight million metric tons of plastic waste found its way into the ocean from costal countries in 2010.
Fortunately this plastic degrades. Unfortunately UV radiation, chemical degradation and the action of waves breaks it down into smaller pieces of plastic. It does not go away. Instead the plastic becomes less than 5 millimeters in size. Swedish scientists have documented that perch larvae consume these small pieces of plastic.
The researchers concluded that the fish that did hatch were “smaller, slower, and more stupid” than those hatched in normal, clean water. This was the conclusion of the lead author of the study, Dr. Oona Lonnstedt, from Uppsala University. She also said, “They (the larvae) all had access to zooplankton and yet they decided to just eat plastic in that treatment. It seems to be a chemical or physical cue that the plastic has, that triggers a feeding response in fish.”
As reported by the BBC in a June 2, 2016 article said, “In the study, the researchers link the decline of species such as perch and pike, observed in the Baltic Sea over the past two decades, to increased deaths at the juvenile stage. They argue that if plastics are impacting young fish across species, it could have ‘profound effects’ on ecosystems.”
An article in the August 26, 2014 issue of the New York Times said, “Hundreds of species mistake plastics for their natural food, ingesting toxicants that cause liver and stomach abnormalities in fish and birds, often choking them to death. We know that one of the main bait fish in the ocean, the lantern fish, eats copious quantities of plastic fragments, threatening their future as a nutritious food source to the tuna, salmon, and other pelagic fish we consume, adding to the increasing amount of synthetic chemicals unknown before 1950 that we now carry in our bodies.”
Which countries lead the rest of the world in polluting the oceans with this plastic waste? The following compilation estimates the top eleven producers of plastic waste in both the years 2010 and 2025. MT represents metric tons.
China 8.82 MT 17.8 MT
Indonesia 3.22 MT 7.42 MT
Philippines 1.88 MT 5.1 MT
Vietnam 1.83 MT 41.7 MT
Sri Lanka 1.59 MT 1.92 MT
Thailand 1.03 MT 2.18 MT
Egypt .97 MT 1.94 MT
Malaysia .94 MT
Nigeria .85 MT 2.48 MT
Bangladesh .79 MT 2.21 MT
India 2.88 MT
The U.S. was the 20th country listed largely because of the high per capita creation of plastic waste. The U.S. actually had a higher per person generation of plastic waste than China in 2010. The U.S. generated 5.6 lbs. per person versus China’s 2.4 lbs. China however has many more people than the U.S. and the U.S. has far more efficient garbage handing than most of the other countries on the list. Assuming rates of growth we now accept the U.S. will not rank within the top 20 on the 2025 list of countries with large amounts of plastic waste.
Our performance in the outer years to control plastic pollution does not affect the estimates now shown above. We are poisoning the fish in the ocean and making them stupid and less effective at reproducing. We are creating dead zones in the ocean that stretch for miles around the equator. For example we know of five major garbage patches drifting in the oceans north and south of the Equator.
The rest of the plastic waste ends up in landfills in many countries where it takes up to 1,000 years to decompose, and potentially leaks pollutants into the soil and water. This is the result of our commitment to plastic. It is a bad habit we must break if we want to save the lives of the fish in the ocean.
We share the oceans with all the people of the world. Unfortunately we never counted on this many people or their ability to pollute the great oceans. It is happening and it is entirely under our control. We need to follow the example of leaders in the elimination of plastics and use the oil that remains for that which is other than plastic products.
Use the following links to gain more information or access the original articles that served as the basis of this report.