How the plastic waste in the sea destroys an entire ecosystem
Ecosystem in need ! It is nothing new for most people: more than ten million tons of plastic waste end up in the sea every year. But how does this incredible amount of plastic actually get there and what exactly is so problematic about it? How can we avoid plastic waste in the sea or even remove it again? We answer all of these questions in this blog post.
The bitter garbage truth
Almost 300 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year. A large part of it ends up in the sea. According to the United Nations Environment Program, there are up to 18,000 pieces of plastic floating on every square kilometer of sea surface! However, it is assumed that around 70% of the plastic sinks to the seabed and is therefore not visible at all. So we can no longer record how much plastic there really is in the sea.
How does the plastic get into the sea?
There are many different ways that plastic finds its way into the sea:
- Improper disposal: Millions of tons of plastic are thrown away every year after a single use. Plastic bottles, plastic bags and all packaging material can be found on the beaches of our seas. And most of the plastic in the sea actually comes from land: it is carelessly discarded or left on the beach and then carried into the sea by wind and rivers. This happens to us particularly in areas that have been developed for tourism, where the rubbish is simply left on the beach or disposed of directly in the sea, or when people want to save on the costs of disposal and dump their rubbish on so-called “wild rubbish dumps”, i.e. illegal rubbish dumps in the middle dump in the forest or in a remote field. A major cause in this area is also the population in developing and emerging countries, who dispose of their garbage on illegal landfills, in rivers or in the sea - simply because there is no education about the dangers of plastic for the environment and nobody knows what harm they do with it.
- Wastewater: whether peeling, toothpaste or shower gel, they all often contain tiny plastic particles, so-called microplastics, which are supposed to increase the cleaning effect. The wastewater then carries these small particles unfiltered into the sea. The situation is similar with the smallest parts of synthetic fiber clothing, which are rubbed off during washing in the washing machine, only to end up in the sewage system and finally find their way into the sea.
- Ship traffic: Despite the global ban on disposing of plastic in the sea, it also happens in our latitudes that ships simply dispose of their garbage in the sea. In addition, of course, cargo or containers unintentionally end up in the sea again and again because the ship loses them.
- Fishing: Fishing nets or other equipment are sometimes deliberately disposed of in the sea or are actually accidentally lost in the sea. A few fish can quickly get caught in such so-called “ghost nets” and die miserably.
- Garbage exports: Germany, which prides itself on its supposedly good recycling rates, exports up to a million tons of plastic waste every year, including to Malaysia, India and Indonesia. And the absurd thing is: Waste that has been exported is considered recycled in Germany, although a proper recycling process in the destination countries cannot be guaranteed. Waste is often incinerated or dumped there, which in turn has a negative impact on the local environment: emissions from incineration and plastic parts that end up in the ground, in water and ultimately in the sea.
Impact of plastic waste in the sea
In principle, plastic is not biodegradable, rather it represents a foreign body in the ecosystem. It hardly decomposes in the sea. It only very slowly crumbles into small pieces, which pose a great danger to sea creatures and ultimately also to humans. And: the smaller the plastic parts are, the harder it is to filter them out of the sea. Of particular note here is the microplastics mentioned above, which get into the sea through the wastewater.
The plastic spreads across the seas through wind and currents and so-called garbage carpets and garbage vortices form. The best known is the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch", which is now as big as Central Europe!
Hold on now: Every year up to 135,000 marine mammals and a million seabirds die from our garbage. Some of the animals mistake the plastic for food, it clogs their digestive tract and they die with a full stomach or from internal injuries caused by sharp-edged plastic parts. Other animals such as harbor seals or seals get caught in old fishing nets or other pieces of plastic.
But there are other dangers: when the plastic decomposes, various toxins such as bisphenol A or phthalates are released, which accumulate in the food chain and affect the hormone balance and genetic makeup of the animals. And that's only because we humans can't manage not to dispose of the garbage we produce properly or simply not use that much plastic at all!
Remove plastic from the sea
Getting the huge amounts of plastic out of the sea seems impossible. Nevertheless, the Dutchman Boyan Slat started the project "The Ocean Cleanup" a few years ago. He developed a solar-powered system that aims to collect 1,000kg of garbage from the sea every week. The Ocean Cleanup is one of the first major attempts to remove the huge mountains of garbage from the sea, process them and, if necessary, reuse them. Unfortunately, two months after its launch in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in October 2018, the system had to be brought back ashore and repaired due to disruptions. But there is still reason for hope: if all goes well, the System 001 of the Ocean Cleanup should be sent back into the water this summer. In addition, it is no longer the only project of its kind: there are now a number of projects that have taken The Ocean Cleanup as a model and are working on other ways of fishing the plastic out of the sea - for example a team from Aachen with theirs Pacific Garbage Screening Project.
As you may now understand a little better, the plastic waste in the sea endangers our biodiversity and the functioning of the entire marine ecosystem. It is urgently necessary to counteract the current development. Anyone can start with this at home, we will give you tips on this in a new blog post soon.
By the way, we at the nu company use plastic-free packaging for our products so that not so much plastic is produced in the first place. Instead we use home compostable packaging .
Save the world with delicious snacks?
You might also be interested in this