20 things you need to know about plastic and our oceans

Like climate change, population growth and habitat loss, plastic pollution is having a devastating impact on our blue planet.

In issue 9 of Breathe magazine (order online or find a local stockist) we meet two women dedicated to finding a solution to one of the most pressing environmental problems of our time. Here we look at some of the most important facts about our oceans and the impact plastic is having on them.

  • 70 per cent of our oxygen is from the oceans
  • In the ocean’s most polluted places, the mass of plastic is six times the mass of plankton
  • Up to 1 trillion plastic bags are discarded every year
  • Most plastic bags have a ‘working life’ of 15 minutes
  • Over the past 10 years we have produced more plastic than during the entire last century
  • 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year
  • 30 per cent of C02 emissions produced by humans are absorbed by the oceans
  • 50 per cent of plastic is used once and thrown away
  • Each year, 11,000 pieces of microplastic are ingested by humans who consume seafood
  • It takes an estimated 20 years for a plastic object to travel from the coastline to the centre of the ocean
  • 500 billion plastic bottles are used worldwide every year
  • Globally, only 14 per cent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling
  • By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea
  • 550 million plastic straws are used daily in the US and the UK
  • It costs just 1p more to make a compostable plastic bag than a traditional one
  • It takes 500 to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade
  • The UK uses 38.5 million plastic bottles every day
  • Plastic cottonbud sticks are the sixth most common item of marine litter found on UK beaches
  • 14 per cent of the world’s litter is from beverage containers (more if caps and labels are included)
  • 97 per cent of the Earth’s water supply is in the ocean

Your ‘No Plastic’ Mantra

REFUSE disposable plastic whenever and wherever possible. Choose items that aren’t packaged in plastic and carry your own bags, containers and utensils. Say ‘no’ to plastic straws, too.

REUSE durable, non-toxic straws, utensils, takeaway containers, bottles, bags and other everyday items. Choose glass, paper, stainless steel, wood, ceramic and bamboo over plastic.

REDUCE your plastic footprint. Cut down on your consumption of goods that contain excessive plastic packaging and parts. If it will leave behind plastic trash, don’t buy it.

RECYCLE what you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse. Pay attention to the entire lifecycle of items you bring into your life, from source to manufacturing to distribution to disposal.

  • Words: Lauren Jarvis
  • Photograph: A Hawaiian monk seal on Midway Island by Michael Pitts
  • Article extract from issue 9 of Breathe – order digital edition here or print issue here