NOT SO NICE LITTLE NUMBERS – Ocean Plastic Polution



David Attenborough in Blue Planet II first alerted me to the problem of plastic in the world’s oceans and its affect on marine life. Then I saw the problem in the TV series My Family and the Galapagos  explained by Monty Hall. And earlier this week I saw Drowning in Plastic with Liz Bronnin (BBC1)

Marine life is facing “irreparable damage” from the millions of tonnes of plastic waste which ends up in the oceans each year, the United Nations has warned.

“This is a planetary crisis… we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean,” said UN oceans chief Lisa Svensson.

Plastic as we know it has only really existed for the last 60-70 years, but in that time it has transformed everything from clothing, cooking and catering, to product design, engineering and retailing.

I, as a grandparent, do worry that it is another problem started on our watch and leaving for our grandchildren. We need to fully identify the problem and take decisive action.

One of the great advantages of many types of plastic is that they’re designed to last – for a very long time. And nearly all the plastic ever created still exists in some form today.

Some countries are considering moves to reduce consumption.

Proposals in the UK include deposit-return schemes, and the improvement of free-drinking water supplies in major cities. China was top of the list of countries mismanaging plastic waste, but the US also featured in the top 20 and contributed a higher rate of waste per person.

Plastic waste accumulates in areas of the ocean where winds create swirling circular currents, known as gyres, which suck in any floating debris. There are five gyres around the globe, but the best known is probably the North Pacific gyre.

It is estimated debris takes about six years to reach the centre of the North Pacific gyre from the coast of the US, and about a year from Japan. All five gyres have higher concentrations of plastic rubbish than other parts of the oceans.

Why is plastic so harmful to marine life?

For sea birds and larger marine creatures like turtles, dolphins and seals, the danger comes from being entangled in plastic bags and other debris, or mistaking plastic for food.

Turtles cannot distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish, which can be part of their diet. Plastic bags, once consumed, cause internal blockages and usually result in death.

Larger pieces of plastic can also damage the digestive systems of sea birds and whales, and can be potentially fatal.

Over time, plastic waste slowly degrades and breaks down into tiny micro-fragments which are also causing scientists concern.

Amazingly, there is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way.

Here’s some numbers that illustrates the problem:

1              70 The approximate number of years plastic has been made

2              8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced to date The combined weight of 1 billion elephants

3              6.3bn tonnes of waste plastic was generated by 2015 79% accumulated in landfill or the natural environment 12% incinerated 9% recycled

4              1,000,000 the number of plastic bottles bought in the world every minute or 20,000 per second

5              480bn plastic bottles sold in 2016

6              110bn of those made by Coca Cola

7              7% only turned into new bottles

8              10m The amount in tonnes of plastic ending up in our oceans each year

9              450 The number of years it takes for plastic bottles and nappies to biodegrade. 200 years for aluminium cans and 50 years for stryrofoam cups.

10           5,000 the approximate number items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile of beach in the UK.

11           100,000 marine mammals and turtles are killed by marine plastic pollution annually. – Kimo

12           1.5 million tons of plastic was produced in 1950, the world’s population was a mere 2.5 billion ; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic

13           15 minutes, time on average a plastic bag is used yet it could take 100 – 300 years to fragment.

14           500 MILLION plastic straws are used EVERY DAY in America. That’s enough to circle the Earth twice

15           1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually. – UNESCO

16           500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom.  A dead zone is where excessive nutrients from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff have contributed to the number of low oxygen (hypoxic) areas known as dead zones, where most marine life cannot survive, resulting in the collapse of some ecosystems.

17           40 percent of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded.

18           50% of all plastic manufactured has been since the year 2000

19           34bn The estimated plastic waste there could be in our oceans by 2050

20           90% of plastic polluting our oceans is carried by just 10 rivers.

21           70,000 The number of  microplastics each person unknowingly eats each year.

22           46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean.

23           A third of fish caught in UK waters contain plastic.

So that’s the problem. We have to act to stop. Here for starters are seven things we can do:

  1. Reduce your use of single-use plastics
  2. Recycle properly
  3. Participate In (or Organize) a Beach or River Cleanup
  4. Support bans on specific items
  5. Avoid products containing Microbeads
  6. Spread the word
  7. Support organizations addressing plastic pollution

As a parting shot I wonder if science fiction wise a microbes could not be developed that ate away plastics. I am sure this is being worked upon as we speak, let’s hope so.


“Mr. Twit was a twit. He was born a twit. And, now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit than ever.”

― Roald Dahl, The Twits


Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. — Carl Saga


Happiness is…a beautiful, clear plastic free marine ocean


Try shoving an ice-cube down your wife’s front at night – ‘There’s the chest freezer you wanted.’ – Ken Dodd


Love is…when a lifetime is not long enough


Gangnam Style – PSY

Highest Chart Position: No.1 30th September 2012


Listed below are the worst rivers for plastic pollution, in order No.1 being the worst, that feed the oceans

1              Yangtze East China Sea Asia

2              Indus Arabian Sea Asia

3              Yellow River Yellow Sea Asia

4              Hai He Yellow Sea Asia

5              Nile Mediterranean Africa

6              Ganges Bay of Bengal Asia

7              Pearl River South China Sea Asia

8              Amur Sea of Okhotsk Asia

9              Niger Gulf of Guinea Africa

10           Mekong South China Sea Asia


©2018 Phil M Robinson