A plastic ocean
You’ve probably heard how floating plastic waste poses a threat to seabirds and whales, but did you know that these plastics also break down over time into smaller pieces? They become smaller than 5mm in size, which are termed as ‘microplastics’.
Scientists in Australia have recently estimated that about 14 million tonnes of microplastics have accumulated in deep sea sediments globally, threatening even more marine life. Due to their small size, microplastics can be eaten by a variety of marine wildlife, including plankton, crustaceans and fish. This can have a knock-on effect, as when microplastics enter the marine food web at low levels, they can move up the food chain as bigger species eat smaller ones, including some of the seafood that are intended for human consumption.
In a report by the World Economic Forum, approximately 136 million tonnes of plastic are already floating in oceans, with some eight million tons entering the oceans each year. If the problem of floating plastic waste is left unchecked, it could pose a larger challenge to collect smaller pieces of plastics after they are broken down.
Addressing the pain points
Efforts are being tackled by startups and organisations around the world. The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch startup that develops technology to extract plastic pollution from the oceans, implemented a moving barge that actively collects floating plastics from rivers, in their bid to prevent these wastes from flowing out to the oceans.
Meanwhile, other strategies seek to incorporate microplastic-collecting devices onboard marine vessels. Suzuki Motor Corp. announced plans to introduce microplastic filters inside its engines to collect microplastics from seawater pumped up for engine cooling, after successful trials in collecting plastic waste such as wood chips and nylon.
Every plastic counts
These findings suggest that it’s more urgent than ever to find effective solutions to stop plastic pollution before it reaches the oceans, from cutting down unnecessary plastic use to improving waste management strategies.