In this post, Why Science explores issues pertaining to the unintended consequences of human activity on the environment by focusing on plastic waste. The term “plastics” is used to describe polymers, long sequences of molecules linked together, manufactured from non-renewable resources (oil, natural gas and coal). All plastics are polymers. Plastics are distinguished by their ability to be easily formed and molded in many ways for many purposes. Globally, we use in excess of 260 million tons of plastic per year, accounting for about 8 percent of world oil production. In spite of recycling, most of this plastic ends up in our oceans.
According to a recent United Nations Environmental Programme report, 46,000 pieces of plastic debris floats on or near the surface of every square mile of ocean. We toss another 2.5 million pieces into our oceans daily!
Plastic debris causes injuries and deaths of numerous marine animals and birds, either because they become entangled in it or they mistake it for food and eat it.
How urgent is the plastics waste problem in our oceans?
1) Watch this presentation by Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, given at TED, “The Sea Plastic”. Captain Moore first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This presentation is part of his ongoing efforts to draw attention to the growing, choking problem of plastic debris in our seas.
2) Explore the links below to learn more about how human activity is adversely impacting our lakes, rivers and oceans
- Changing Planet: Rising Sea Levels
- Changing Planet: Melting Glaciers
- Changing Planet: Ocean Acidification
- Earth’s oceans: Our largest plastic landfills
- “Plastic debris in the world’s oceans”, United Nations Environmental Programme Report
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