Problem & Impact
Once discharged into streams or oceans, the plastic either sinks or floats on the water surface. Of the floating plastic, studies estimate that 97% of it is redirected to shorelines and beaches and the remaining 3% constitutes the plastic gyres in the ocean that are often referred to as garbage patches.
Due to our over-consumption of plastic as well as the lack of infrastructures to manage it at the end of its life, huge amounts of plastic end up in our environment. Every minute, it’s the equivalent of a truckload filled with plastic that is being dumped into the ocean.
As a result, the most beautiful beaches around the world are covered in plastic. By being in contact with the sun rays, the plastic becomes more fragile and the effect of waves and erosion fractures it into smaller plastic particles called microplastic.
Biota is affected by these small particles as they are small enough to be ingested by many species. According to the United Nation, plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish each year.
Plastic goes all the way up the food chain and whether it’s by what we eat, drink or the air we breathe, studies estimate that humans ingest on average the plastic equivalent of a credit card every week. The chemical composition of plastic (Bisphenol A, Phtalate) and the absorption of other chemicals in the environment during its life make the plastic act as a medium that carries many toxic agents into the environment. These chemicals are known as endocrine disrupters which could affect reproduction, development and many other hormone related functions
The impact of plastic on beaches is significant for the economy of coastal communities. The economic impacts are multiple and manifest in different forms such as recreational value, tourism spending, job creating, commercial fisheries, and real estate value. NOAA conducted a study called The Economic Impact of Marine Debris on Tourism-Dependent Communities and the results are eye-opening.
It’s important that we change the way we use and consume plastic globally. If nothing changes, plastic production is expected to quintuple by 2050. This number is for the production, but naturally the plastic ending up in the environment will follow a similar trend, which will bring disastrous consequences.