Explanation of the global plastic pollution dilemma
Much of the earth is covered with abandoned plastic, which is wreaking havoc on both animal and human health. Is it possible to clean it up?

Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the most important environmental challenges, as the world’s capacity to manage throwaway plastic items has been overwhelmed. Plastic pollution is especially noticeable in impoverished Asian and African countries, where waste management systems are either inadequate or nonexistent. However, the industrialized world, particularly in nations with poor recycling rates, also struggles to collect waste plastics adequately. Plastic waste has grown so pervasive that efforts to create a worldwide convention negotiated by the United Nations have been launched.

plastic refuse truck

How did this transpire?

Plastics derived from fossil fuels are just a little more than a century old. After World War II, the production and creation of hundreds of new plastic goods skyrocketed, altering the modern period to the point that living without plastics would be unrecognizable. Plastics transformed medicine by enabling life-saving devices, enabling space flight, reducing the weight of vehicles and jets—saving fuel and pollution—and saving lives via the development of helmets, incubators, and equipment for safe drinking water.

However, the conveniences offered by plastics have resulted in a throw-away culture that displays the material’s dark side: single-use plastics now account for 40% of all plastic manufactured each year. While many of these goods, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, have a short shelf life, they can survive in the environment for hundreds of years.
Plastics in numerical order

Several critical facts:

Half of all plastics produced to date have been manufactured in the previous 15 years.

From 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons in 2015, production expanded rapidly. By 2050, production is predicted to double.

Around 8 million tons of plastic debris enter the waters each year from coastal nations. That is the equivalent of placing five rubbish bags filled with trash on every foot of shoreline worldwide.

Plastics frequently contain additives that increase their strength, flexibility, and durability. However, many of these compounds can extend the life of items if they become litter, taking up to 400 years to degrade according to some estimates.


beach pollution

How plastics are transported around the world

The majority of plastic waste in the seas, the planet’s last sink, flows from land. Major rivers also transport rubbish to the sea, acting as conveyor belts, scooping up debris as they flow downstream. Once at sea, the majority of plastic waste is deposited in coastal seas. However, if captured in ocean currents, it can be carried worldwide.

Scientists discovered plastic artifacts from Russia, the United States, Europe, South America, Japan, and China on Henderson Island, an uninhabited island in the Pitcairn Group located midway between Chile and New Zealand. They were brought to the South Pacific by a circular ocean circulation known as the South Pacific gyre.


Once at sea, sunshine, wind, and wave action degrade plastic garbage into minuscule particles that are frequently less than a fifth of an inch in diameter. These so-called microplastics are distributed throughout the water column and have been discovered in every corner of the planet, from the highest peak, Mount Everest, to the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest trench.

Microplastics continue to degrade into ever-smaller fragments. Meanwhile, plastic microfibers have been discovered in municipal drinking water systems and floating in the air.

Wildlife is harmed

Each year, plastics kill millions of creatures, from birds to fish to other marine critters. Nearly 700 species, many of them endangered, have been recognized to be harmed by plastics. Almost every seabird species consumes plastic.

The majority of animal fatalities are due to entanglement or hunger. Strangulation of seals, whales, turtles, and other creatures occurs as a result of abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings. Microplastics have been discovered in over 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and mussels that are intended for human consumption. Often, these microscopic fragments pass through the digestive system unnoticed and are excreted. However, plastics have been discovered to obstruct digestive systems and penetrate organs, resulting in death. Stomachs stuffed with plastics suppress the desire to eat, resulting in hunger.

Plastic has been swallowed by land-based creatures such as elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other big mammals, resulting in mortality in certain cases.

Additionally, tests have revealed liver and cell damage, as well as changes to reproductive systems in some species, such as oysters, causing them to produce fewer eggs. According to recent research, larval fish consume nanofibers during their initial days of existence, raising fresh concerns about the impact of plastics on fish populations.

Putting an end to the plastic tide

Once in the water, retrieving plastic debris is difficult, if not impossible. Mr. Trash Wheel, a litter interceptor in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor, is an example of a mechanical system that is successful in removing big bits of plastic from inland waters, such as foam cups and food containers. However, as plastics degrade into microplastics and travel across the open ocean’s water column, they are nearly hard to retrieve.

The solution, according to many scientists and conservationists, including the National Geographic Society, is to prevent plastic debris from entering rivers and seas in the first place. This might be done by improved waste management and recycling, improved product design that takes the short life of disposable packaging into consideration, and a decrease in the manufacture of needless single-use plastics.