Plastic Pollution in the Marine Environment

Widespread plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. It’s especially true in the world’s increasingly fragile marine ecosystems. These delicate precious habitats are an area of particular focus for marine geochemist and chemical oceanographer David Hastings.

At least 14 million of tons of plastic waste end up in our oceans and seas annually Hastings reports. This waste gets discarded with devastating effects on marine life and the unique environments they call home.

Millions of Tons of Plastic Waste

Although the United States is far from the only nation contributing to plastic pollution in the marine environment it’s one of the biggest offenders globally. The latest estimates suggest that the U.S is currently responsible for producing over 11.2 million metric tons of plastic waste every year.

According to expert David Hastings, a startling amount of the plastic produced globally ends up in the ocean environment. With that in mind marine plastic pollution is among today’s most pressing environmental issues.

The Long-Lasting Impact of Plastic

Plastic waste in the world’s oceans and elsewhere takes hundreds of years to break down. As such it’s not just an immediate and severe threat to the planet’s marine environments. That’s because it’s also an extremely long-lasting one that will affect many generations still to come.

Marine geochemist and chemical oceanographer David Hastings points out that plastic waste now accounts for roughly 80 percent of all ocean debris. It’s an alarming figure and one that’s only getting worse. That’s as an estimated eight million metric tons of additional new plastic waste enters the planet’s oceans yearly.

Some of this plastic waste comes from the 11.2 million tons of plastic waste the U.S produces annually. Hastings explains that when this waste enters the oceans off the coast of North America and elsewhere it’s ingested by marine life large and small. Ingestion can lead to the death of these marine organisms while simultaneously destroying the delicate ecosystems it calls home.

Single-Use Plastic Is a Main Offender

Single-use items make up a large amount of the plastic pollution in marine environments. Examples include plastic bags bottles cutlery take out containers and straws. Measures are ongoing to combat the use of such items in the U.S as well as other countries including Kenya Bangladesh and the U.K David Hastings notes.

According to the expert single-use plastic items are as prevalent as ever. Typically used just once before being discarded—and rarely recycled or disposed of properly—they remain a significant contributor to the issue of plastic pollution.

They’re at their most harmful when released into the world’s oceans rapidly impacting the fragile marine environments they’re polluting.

Combating Marine Plastic Pollution

To address the issue David Hastings believes taking more serious action is vital. The marine geochemist and chemical oceanographer actively promotes support for policies encouraging plastic waste reduction. That includes imposing fees or taxes on single-use plastics and outright bans on certain items.

He is keen to champion organizations directly working to clean up and reduce plastic waste in our oceans. Two examples of such organizations are the Ocean Cleanup Foundation and the Plastic Ocean Foundation.

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