Plastics are used in virtually everything these days, but you may not realize that the word “plastic” is actually just a descriptor for the materials used to make common items like toys, smartphones and grocery bags.
Instead, synthetic polymers are what make up the molecular chains that form the pliable materials commonly referred to as plastics. In the manufacture of some polymers, additives like petroleum are also used to create upwards of 350 tons of material per year.
Regardless of what you call them, there’s no denying that plastic has been both a benefit to society and a hindrance to nature. Plastic offers a strong, flexible material that can be shaped into virtually anything, but these materials can take upwards of 500 years to decompose. This is a problem for landfills, but it’s also a huge problem for the world’s oceans.
The Effects of Oceanbound Plastic
So-called oceanbound plastic (OBP) is a worldwide epidemic, and it affects every ocean on the planet. OBP means any plastic that ends up in the ocean, and while it mainly comes from ships, it can also reach the seas via waterways like rivers, streams and estuaries.
Some areas are more affected than others, however, as the various jet streams that control the flow of Earth’s ocean waters can drag trash to specific locations and hold it there.
One famous example of this is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the Pacific Ocean located between California and Japan where a large field of debris has collected.
The result of plastics that end up in oceans can disrupt natural habitats of marine life, cause marine animals to become ensnared and choke sea creatures that mistake plastic items for food.
Additionally, microbes and pollutants that are absorbed by or contained within plastics can be spread once items are left to sit in ocean waters. This can destroy ecosystems, many of which are delicate and must remain carefully balanced.
Ocean Cleanup Organizations And Disrupting The Flow Of Plastic Waste
As a result of the notoriety being given to plastic pollution in the ocean over recent decades, many manufacturing companies are now taking note of their refuse policies and making changes to how plastics are discarded.
Additionally, certification programs exist that review policies and procedures to certify businesses as adhering to global standards from organizations like CanadaGAP and GreenKey Global.
In addition to certifications, many manufacturers and processors of plastic products have committed to cleanup efforts to reduce the number of plastics found in the planet’s oceans.
Some have taken to donating money to organizations that embark upon cleanup efforts while others send out their own crews to fight ocean pollution.
Not everyone believes in cleanup efforts, however, as some have fallen under skepticism from scientists. It is believed by some experts that attempts at cleaning up the Earth’s oceans can actually do more harm than good as these operations tend to use a lot of resources themselves, and the ensuing damage done to marine life and ecosystems can be a lasting problem.
Additionally, current methods available, including trawling, have little impact and may even be futile according to some marine biologists.
Plastic Upcycling And New Solutions To Plastic Pollution
One solution to the problem of ocean bound plastic is the practice of upcycling. To upcycle something means to recycle it in a way that makes use of discarded items in new ways.
When new items are created from recycled ocean plastic, this not only reduces the amount of trash in the ocean but also reduces the number of resources needed to create new products from scratch as upcycled products can replace new products.
Other solutions to plastic pollution include creating new products using recycled ocean plastic. These efforts involve collecting and processing OBP to make new products.
Recycled ocean plastic can be reused up to 10 times depending on the polymers used, and recycled ocean plastic products are indistinguishable from products made from raw polymers.
Nanotechnology is also being investigated as an answer to the plastics problem. Nanotechnology in food packaging and other materials production processes could potentially bring about a lessening dependence on plastics.
Materials constructed using nanotechnology can be engineered to be biodegradable, and they can also contain hygienic properties that allow them to be used for food wrappers without the worry of contamination while in storage, on store shelves or from consumers.