Plastic has been accumulating in the ocean since it was introduced into mass production beginning in the 1950’s. Now approximately eight million tons of plastic refuse finds its way into the oceans around the world each year, but the problem is actually much, much bigger.
Plastic does not biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces continue to get smaller and more toxic creating a domino effect of damage from the fragile ecosystems in our oceans to our global environment and all the way up the food chain to human ingestion.
Plastic pollution is not a problem that will go away on its own and we must act now before this predicament becomes so big and causes so much damage that we cannot repair or restore our oceans and our environment.
How do we fix this?
The current focus of many “clean up” projects is to collect the larger macroplastics that float near the surface of the ocean. They are unable to gather the much smaller microplastics that pose
the more immediate danger.
Using our proprietary technology, Our Cleaner Planet will not only remove the larger macro-plastics, but we will also remove the microplastics down to an incredibly tiny size (less than 5 microns across) and at much deeper levels beneath the surface.
Like a one-two punch, we believe that this process of restoring our oceans will require two simultaneous actions.
Our Cleaner Planet will join other environmentalist organizations in working to stop plastics at their source, on land.
Given that hundreds of thousands of tons of plastics are already in the ocean, they need to be cleared [harvested] before a true restoration of the oceans can occur.
Plastic Pollution Data
More than eight million tons of plastic refuse finds its way into the oceans around the world each year. By 2050, we may find more plastic in the ocean than fish, by weight. (1)
The team at science.org, “calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean.” (7)
These plastics do not biodegrade. They break down into smaller and smaller pieces.
Climate change is a major issue today, triggered in large part by carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs a huge amount of this carbon, including 30-50% of the CO2 produced by the burning of fossil fuel. (8)
A group of tiny marine organisms (plankton), the coccolithophores, create shells and skeletons for themselves by turning the carbon dioxide into structural calcium carbonate (CaCO3). When these organisms die, their shells sink into deep waters of the ocean. At the bottom, they form layers of carbon-rich sediments which develop into limestone – like the cliffs of Dover. This process is of trapping carbon dioxide in the deep ocean is called carbon sequestration. (3)
Unfortunately, manmade carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is overwhelming the oceans… chemically turning them acidic. This acid not only robs the plankton of carbonate for their shells, it is actually dissolving their shells, which slows the sequestering process, and worsens global warming.
Phytoplankton (tiny plants) growth rates and their ability to photosynthesize are affected by microplastics. Further, plastics can impair the growth, feeding, reproduction, and survival of zooplankton (tiny animals). (4)
Eight million tons of plastics enter our oceans each year, are also entering our food chain. In California alone, in 2018, 25% of processed commercial fish contained microplastics. (2)
Scientists have stated that coatings (biofilms) on microplastic debris in the ocean can concentrate Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs that leach out of the plastics) up to a million times their levels in the surrounding seawater.
When these microplastics are eaten by marine life forms, the POPs endanger both the creatures that ingest them and humans higher up on the food chain, especially infants. (6)
Research in larger animals has linked micro and nanoplastic exposure to infertility, inflammation and cancer. (5) For instance, in Japanese rice fish, nano polystyrene that is only 39.4 nanometers in size, can be absorbed through an embryo’s outer membrane (chorion) and be taken into the yolk and gallbladder while the embryo is developing. Nanoplastics have also been found in the brain, testis, liver and blood.
As a result, Kashiwada (2006) suggested that the nanoplastics were capable of passing the blood–brain barrier. (9)
Many such POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) have been proven to cause endocrine disruption, mutagenesis and/or carcinogenesis.
This is because the POPs increasingly accumulate (bioaccumulation) as increasingly larger animals eat the smaller ones along the food web, and the damage they can cause increases in intensity (biomagnification). (4)
Kormann, Carolyn, et al. “A Grand Plan to Clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The New Yorker, 28 Jan. 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/02/04/a-grand-plan-to-clean-the-great-pacific-garbage-patch.
Madeleine Smith, David C. Love, Chelsea M. Rochman, and Roni A. Neff "Microplastics in Seafood and the Implications for Human Health" - Current Environmental Health Reports (2018) 5:375–386; published online: 16 August 2018
“The Ocean, Origin of Life on Earth in The Interactions Between Ocean and Climate: 8 fact sheets;” https://www.ocean-climate.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/161011_FactSheets_EN.pdf
Soares, Joana et al. “Perspectives on Micro(Nano)Plastics in the Marine Environment: Biological and Societal Considerations.” Water 12.11 (2020): 3208. Crossref. Web.; http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/w12113208
“Micro- and Nanoplastics Detectable in Human Tissues.” American Chemical Society, August 17, 2020. https://phys.org/news/2020-08-micro-nanoplastics-human-tissues.html (accessed 8/30/21).
Cho, Renee. “Our Oceans: A Plastic Soup.” State of the Planet, Colombia Climate School, 20 Feb. 2019, https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2011/01/26/our-oceans-a-plastic-soup/.
Jambeck, Jenna R et al. “Marine pollution. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science (New York, N.Y.) vol. 347,6223 (2015): 768-71. doi:10.1126/science.1260352
“Oceans and the carbon cycle” from Climate Change Factsheets of Information Unit on Climate Change (IUCC)-UNEP, 1993; accessed September 30, 2021 at the Global Development Research Center website: https://www.gdrc.org/oceans/fsheet-02.html
“Nanoplastics in the aquatic environment. Critical review.” AA Koelmans, E Besseling, WJ Shim – Chapter 12 in Marine anthropogenic litter, 2015, p. 333.