Water bottles, soda bottles, toys, and food containers: What do all of these have in common? Most are made of plastic, which is one of the most abundant types of waste in the ocean. But what about the other types of waste in the ocean, and why is there so much concern for the ever-growing amounts of waste in the oceans? Are there solutions to solve this problem? The waste that humans produce—which is mostly waste from packaging—can have a profound negative effect on the environment, and we must find ways to solve this problem before it gets out of hand.

Clearly, the issue of waste ending up in the oceans stems from the amount of waste that we humans produce, consume, and discard. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, humans produce at least 300 million tons of plastic annually, with the ocean receiving 14 million tons of that plastic, which is around 80% of the waste found in the ocean. To make matters worse, most plastics that are produced are not biodegradable, so they can remain in the ocean for many years. According to the World Wildlife Federation Australia, a plastic bag can take 20 years to degrade, while a plastic toothbrush, a coffee pod, and even a disposable diaper can each take 500 years to degrade, if not more. To make matters worse, when the plastics do begin to break down, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that plastics “can contain or absorb toxic chemicals potentially presenting toxicological risks for organisms that ingest them.”

If anything is more affected by the slowly-degrading waste in the oceans, it is the marine animals—whether in saltwater or freshwater—that suffers the most. Animals can accidentally eat the trash or get tangled in it, and scientists estimate 558+ species of marine animals get affected by the trash in this way, according to the EPA. In my research on National Geographic, I have found an image of a dead albatross whose stomach was opened to reveal plastics of all sorts that the animal had eaten. Furthermore, the plastics that degrade can be eaten by an organism, and that organism gets the harmful chemicals that the degraded plastics contain or absorbed. If that organism happens to be a fish, the chemicals can be transferred to a bigger fish that eats it, or to the humans who catch the fish for food, as stated by the Ocean Conservancy. Therefore, not only are the animals affected by the waste in the oceans, but humans are affected as well.

There are a lot of problems related to the waste in the ocean. What are some ways we can help lessen the waste that ends up in the ocean? The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) names some very practical solutions. One solution is to cook your own food as much as possible, instead of buying food from restaurants. This reduces the amount of packaging you use, therefore reducing the amount of potential waste. A second solution is to buy food products in bulk, which means avoiding individually packaged products and preventing more packaging waste from getting into the oceans. A third solution is to begin to use reusable items as opposed to their disposable counterparts, including eating utensils, straws, water bottles, food containers, bags, etc. A fourth solution is to recycle all the disposable packages that you use, if possible. A fifth solution is buying used items instead of new items. This way, you decrease the amount of new packaging you must discard. The organization Plastic Oceans adds a few more solutions: avoid using disposable razors and use bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. All these solutions are ways to prevent worsening the problem of waste in the oceans.

The waste in the ocean has had detrimental effects to both marine wildlife and to us as humans. Because of the large output of waste, with over 300 million tons produced, it is almost impossible to avoid getting it into the oceans. Once in the ocean, plastics and other types of waste pose a risk to animals that may consume them, and we as humans are also at risk when we consume the animals from the polluted oceans. However, this problem is not without solutions. By striving to avoid packaging waste where possible—such as using reusable instead of disposable containers, utensils, and bottles—we can reduce how much waste ends up in our oceans. We all need to take the steps necessary to save our oceans, because what we do will eventually come back on us.

Works Cited:

Marine plastic pollution

The lifecycle of plastics

Impacts of Aquatic Trash

Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting, but Big Questions Remain

10 Ways to Reduce Plastic Pollution

9 Ways You Can Help Reduce Plastic Pollution

Essay by: Noah Layos
Arizona Virtual Academy

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