With how the world has come, plastic is in our everyday lives. 322 million tons of plastic was produced in 2015 compared to 2005 with 230 million tons (Plastics – The Facts). Only a small percentage of plastic is being carried off to landfills and an even smaller percentage is being recycled. The rest of these plastics are finding their way to the ocean causing an enormous buildup. Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) plastic pollution in the oceans and how these high levels have a detrimental effect on marine life on their nesting process and eating habits.
When searching for sources, the library was the main database being picked from. I searched for articles with keywords of plastic, microplastics, ocean, pollution, and animals. These keywords produced a long list of articles to choose from. To thin these out, I narrowed the search to academic journals from 2009 to present. After these restrictions, there were still an abundant number of sources, so I added the restriction of peer reviewed. Now, there is a small enough amount to start grazing through each article. Upon opening a source, I would read the abstract to ensure it is in fact going to back up my research.
Then procced to ensure there is a reference page and documented data. Next, I focused on the authors and their backgrounds, ensured they were correctly educated and or with an organization. Following by the examination of why the article was written, if it was being uploaded to a biased or scholarly journal. And finally, I scanned through the article to check if it had graphs and charts to back up their research.
After composing the articles adequate to my research, I thoroughly read through and took notes on each one. Making note of the keywords, points, arguments, and thesis; writing down the components that will help backup my thesis. Highlighting the direct quotes I wanted to use and paraphrasing or summarizing other important information.
Plastic does decompose, but the process takes anywhere from ten to one thousand years to complete the process (Leblanc). During the process, the plastic disintegrates into particles and microplastics (plastic particles > 5mm in size; Ivar do Sul and Costa). The most frequent plastics found in the ocean are PE and PP (Munari 387). Examples of PE plastic are toys, milk jugs, shampoo and water bottles; examples of PP plastic are the one time use types of plastics: wrappers, caps, and food packaging (Plastic – The Facts 2016).
PP plastics make up 50% of all plastics manufactured, so the wrappers covering everything are the ones needing to be recycled the most (Plastic). These and many other types of plastics makeup all the microplastics floating around in every body of water. Not all microplastics are disintegrated from a whole piece of plastic, some are created that small. An example of this is in exfoliating body soaps, microplastics are the beads mixed in with the soap. So, although it may seem that microplastics are just a creation of decomposition, not all are, but they are still most commonly found.
Off the western coast of Greece, in the Mediterranean Sea, the smaller plastics, which in the past had not been calculated into the total amount of plastic, raises the amount of overall plastics (Cózar et al. 2). “Tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of items per square kilometer,” are the clusters found in the Mediterranean Sea (Cózar et al. 2). Most of the surface plastic found are broken apart, pieces of “larger rigid objects,” like bottles (3).
Instead of being left with a whole pop bottle, there are a million microplastics floating around both on the surface and at the floor of the sea. All sizes of plastic larger than 20mm is more frequently found in the Mediterranean Sea compared to the oceans; while microplastics smaller than 2mm shows up less than in the Mediterranean when compared to the oceans (4). The differentiation in sizes of plastics has to do with the current of the water and the areas that surround the water. Up in the northern areas of the Mediterranean Sea, similar occurrences are happening.
Off the eastern coast of Greece, in the Northern Adriatic Sea, 89.9% of plastic pollutions are the tinier pieces of plastic and 10.1% are bigger fragments of plastic (Munari et al. 387). PE plastic makes up the main portion of pollution in the beaches around the Northern Adriatic Sea, 60.6% being pieces of a whole and 23.6% is film (387). Film is produced as one time use plastics and is considered a PP plastic. Film plastics are thicker and usually cover cases of drinks or holds a six pack together. The pieces found are mainly in shapes with sharp edges which can cause harm to the animal that tries to ingest it.
Internal abrasions, the loss of appetite, and “affect the ability to ingest and digest food,” can be caused by marine life consuming plastic (Furtado et al. 117). The anatomy of these animals can also be affected if the plastic frees the toxin elements inside it (117). Through the years, plastic to bird ratio has slowly increased, in Furtado et al. research, they found that the amount of birds that contain plastics in their stomachs is at the minimum of 79% (119).
Plastic ingestion has a higher percentage of occurrence when the plastics are a main material used in birds’ nests. The same plastic types persistent in nests along the Atlantic Ocean, Rio de Janeiro, are “fishing gear and hard plastic,” (Tavares et al. 12). Red (20%), Black (29%), and white (52%) plastics were the most frequent with 8.94g being the middle heaviness found in each (12). Marine life is more likely to eat the colored debris because they look like the natural food choices (Munari et al. 389).
Millions of tons of plastics are being dumped into the Mediterranean Sea without a large enough gap to escape into a larger body of water; resulting in this overwhelming buildup of plastic (Cózar et al. 7). Although whole pieces of plastic are discarded into the ocean and seas, they are all being broken down and end up creating the most common plastic found in all bodies of water, microplastic. Because of the frequent intake of plastic in marine life, it has become an ultimatum for their health (Munari et al. 389).
These plastics are not only on the surface of the water but also on the floors which, “colonization by organisms use these floating objects as substrates or refuges” (Cózar et al. 7). Which could be a good thing if the plastics floating around in the Mediterranean Sea were not being ingested by, “small fish, seabirds, turtles, and sperm whales” (8). While on the shore of Europe, nanoplastic fragments have been spotted in large amounts of oysters and mussels, showing that they too are eating the plastics (8).
If we can cut back on the production of plastics, PP and PE, we can clean up the oceans, take the plastic out of the marine lives stomachs and the toxins that come with them and allow for more natural options for the birds to put in their nests. Showing love for our Earth and the lives that also call it home does not make the human race weak or inferior. What it will do is prolong our life and all lives on Earth and create additional beautiful sceneries.
- Browne, Mark A. “Sources and Pathways of Microplastics to Habitats.” Marine Anthropogenic Litter, Ch. 9, 2015, pp. 229-244.
- Cózar, Andrés, et al. “Plastic Accumulation in the Mediterranean Sea.” Plos One, vol. 10, no. 4, Apr. 2015, p. e0121762. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121762.
- Furtado, Ricardo, et al. “White-Faced Storm-Petrels Pelagodroma Marina Predated by Gulls as Biological Monitors of Plastic Pollution in the Pelagic Subtropical Northeast Atlantic.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 112, Nov. 2016, pp. 117–122. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.08.031.
- Ivar do Sul, Juliana A., and Monica F. Costa. “Review: The Present and Future of Microplastic Pollution in the Marine Environment.” Environmental Pollution, vol. 185, Feb. 2014, pp. 352–364. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2013.10.036.
- Leblanc, Rick. “The Decomposition of Waste in Landfills: A Story of Time and Materials.” Sustainable Businesses, 2018. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033
- Munari, Cristina, et al. “Plastic Debris in the Mediterranean Sea: Types, Occurrence and Distribution along Adriatic Shorelines.” WASTE MANAGEMENT, vol. 67, pp. 385–391. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2017.05.020. Accessed 17 Feb. 2019.
- “Plastics – the Facts 2016.” Plastics Shape the Future. PlasticsEurope, 2016. https://www.plasticseurope.org/application/files/4315/1310/4805/plastic-the-fact-2016.pdf
- Tavares, David Castro, et al. “Nests of the Brown Booby (Sula Leucogaster) as a Potential Indicator of Tropical Ocean Pollution by Marine Debris.” Ecological Indicators, vol. 70, Nov. 2016, pp. 10–14. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.06.005.