Plastics Polluting Our Oceans

In a 2017 study from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature found that 95% of plastic in the ocean comes from land: 1) Plastic flows in rivers from land to sea, in the runoff from highly populated coastal cities. 2) Maritime activities, such as fishing and shipping.
People Impacted
$ 14B
Potential Funding
I have this challenge
the problem
Nature and Context

The 2017 United Nations Clean Seas Campaign estimated that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean today, 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy. Even if you live in a landlocked area, your plastic consumption is likely a contributor to the problem (5 Gyres)

On average, the world is getting hotter each year. The production of plastics gives off greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to this yearly warming.Both individual consumers and corporations contribute to plastic pollution. However, recycling exportation and outsourcing can also leave plastic in the ocean (Sea Going Green).

Symptoms and Causes

1. Consumerism 

Littering is one of the biggest ways that plastic ends up in the ocean. When one person does it, it may not seem like a big deal. However, just one piece of plastic can harm sea life and disrupt ecosystems. On beaches, one of the most common places for pollution, the litter will end up in the ocean. It all adds up. Single-use plastic is one of the most common materials for products all over the world, but it affects all wildlife (Sea Going Green).

2. Manufacturing

Corporations have evaded pollution and sustainability conversations in the past — the focus was commonly on how consumers can make a difference. While that is largely true, environmental activists are now holding businesses accountable. 

Production of plastics burns a significant amount of carbon emissions. Further, corporations that don't dispose of their plastic waste properly add to landfills or affect the ocean. Many companies' plastic products show up across the continents due to pollution. 

Additionally, the more plastic they produce, the more consumers will buy. This leads to more litter and ocean pollution (Sea Going Green).

3. Exporting and Outsourcing

Recycling is one of the best ways to make sure you're doing your part, but unfortunately, it has flaws of its own. The equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of plastic from the United States was exported to developing countries in 2018. 

Workers in these countries may not have the resources or regulations to properly recycle the materials. Thus, it can end up in oceans or landfills. The process of shipping the recyclables to another country entails burning significant amounts of fuel to transport it. On top of that, plastics are lightweight, so wind can blow them off the ship. 

Incineration is another option for disposing of plastics in a nonsustainable way. Some regulations allow this practice depending on location. The burning process releases carbon emissions. 

Either way, plastics get mishandled. In the ocean, this adds up. Pollution can be found in bodies of water throughout the world. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for example, is a major disruptor of aquatic life.  The spread of plastic pollution continues to harm sea life, which ingests the plastics. When humans then eat seafood, they can risk consuming microplastics as well. This is the chain of ocean plastic pollution (Sea Going Green).

the impact
Negative Effects

Impacts on Marine Environment
The most visible and disturbing impacts of marine plastics are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fishes and turtles, mistake plastic waste for prey, and most die of starvation as their stomachs are filled with plastic debris. They also suffer from lacerations, infections, reduced ability to swim, and internal injuries. Floating plastics also contribute to the spread of invasive marine organisms and bacteria, which disrupt ecosystems (iucn).

Impacts on food and health
Invisible plastic has been identified in tap water, beer, salt and are present in all samples collected in the world’s oceans, including the Arctic. Several chemicals used in the production of plastic materials are known to be carcinogenic and to interfere with the body’s endocrine system, causing developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders in both humans and wildlife.

Toxic contaminants also accumulate on the surface of plastic materials as a result of prolonged exposure to seawater. When marine organisms ingest plastic debris, these contaminants enter their digestive systems, and overtime accumulate in the food web. The transfer of contaminants between marine species and humans through consumption of seafood has been identified as a health hazard, but has not yet been adequately researched (iucn).

Impacts on climate change
Plastic, which is a petroleum product, also contributes to global warming. If plastic waste is incinerated, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thereby increasing carbon emissions (iucn).

Economic Impact

Impacts on tourism
Plastic waste damages the aesthetic value of tourist destinations, leading to decreased tourism-related incomes and major economic costs related to the cleaning and maintenance of the sites (iucn).

Costly Damage

Plastic pollution costs $13 billion in economic damage to marine ecosystems per year. This includes losses to the fishing industry and tourism, as well as the cost to clean up beaches (The Balance).

Success Metrics
  • Reduce unnecessary plastic use by the individuals and mass producers.

  • Hold large companies accountable for excess waste and unsustainable practices.

  • Support efforts to remove large plastic pieces from beaches, rivers, and oceans.

  • Rethink how we recycle.

who benefits from solving this problem
Organization Types
  • Environmental Protection Agencies

  • Governments World Wide

  • Department of Fish and Wildlife

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature

  • National Wildlife Federation

  • Mankind

  • Environmentalists

  • Conservationists

  • Global Economists

financial insights
Ideas Description

Tech Solutions and Services

Footprint exists to create a healthier planet. Footprint focuses on reducing or eliminating plastic use and pollution through the development and manufacturing of revolutionary technologies. Footprint has the widest range of product offerings to eliminate single-use plastics from consumer goods, frozen food packaging, produce, quick service, and more. Footprint can develop the solution you need!?

CleanSwell is used to document millions of pounds of trash found during beach cleanups. It tracks the path of users during cleanup efforts, tallies miles cleaned up, and keeps a record of the total amount of trash you’ve collected. CleanSwell's data delivers a global snapshot of ocean trash, providing researchers and policy-makers insight to inform solutions.

Plastic is a revolutionary material that has changed our world since it was first discovered in the early 1900s. Now at Greendot Bioplastics we’re bettering it by making resin that is more sustainable, compostable, and eco-friendly. Together, we can lessen the environmental impact of products we love and use every day.

Cleanhub empowers local communities to set up collection businesses at scale. We do that by incentivizing the collection and safe disposal of non-recyclable plastics. Our digital platform allows collection groups to hand over their collected plastic to a network of certified plastic treatment and recovery partners.

SOP Technologies provides technologies to prevent ocean pollution, prevent floods, and provide cost savings to communities and businesses around the world.

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