As Blue Planet II made devastatingly clear, plastic is having an unprecedented impact on marine life, with dolphins, whales, turtles, seals, fish and seabirds paying a tragic price for man's thoughtless consumerism. Here are a few plastic facts:
1. A 2017 study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic - bottles, straws, glitter, microbeads and bags ends up our oceans each year. That's a truckload every minute.
2. There are an estimated 300 billion pieces of plastic floating in the Arctic alone
3. Over the last ten years there has been more plastic produced than was used in the whole of the last century.
4. 500 billion plastic bags are used every year – one million per minute.
5. 500 million plastic straws are thrown away every single day in the United States
6. Coke makes 100 billion plastic bottles every year.
7. Americans throw about 35 billion plastic bottles every year (according to Brita)
8. London is the plastic straw capital of Europe. Two billion are thrown away every year. Their combined weight, 1,000 tonnes, is equivalent to three fully-laden passenger jets
9. Plastics act as a toxic sponge for man-made chemicals, massively affecting reproduction in seals and sea lions
10. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists in some form
11. It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
12. 50 per cent of plastic is used once and thrown away
13. One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die annually from plastic pollution
14. The pellets made by the plastics industry are the same size and shape as fish eggs and are fed by seabirds to their young. Every year, tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Medway Island in the North Pacific Ocean die from starvation, toxicity and choking on plastics.
15. According to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), plastic has been found in the digestive systems of 90 per cent of fulmar birds in the UK.
16. Plastic in the oceans breaks into such small pieces that, theoretically, bits of plastic from a single one litre bottle could be scattered across every mile of every beach in the world
17. Plastic waste in the Pacific has created a giant plastic garbage soup. The exact size is unknown but is said to be between 700,000 square miles (the size of Texas) and 15 million square miles – almost the size of Russia. Known as the Great Pacific Garbage patch, it has been claimed that it grows by 8 football fields a second.
18. The tiny creatures at the bottom of the food chain absorb plastic chemicals then pass it on when they’re eaten by larger fish or marine mammals.
19. People who eat seafood contaminated by plastic chemicals are developing increasingly serious health problems, including cancer.
20. Toxic metals and plastics can destroy the biochemistry, behaviour, reproduction and growth of fish and marine mammals
21. In the North Pacific Gyre, off the coast of California, plastics outweigh plankton by six to one.
22. 70 per cent of the oxygen in the air that we breathe comes from the ocean
23. Plastic has been found in the stomach of almost all marine species, including dolphins, whales, seals, turtles and fish
24. Microplastics have been found in fish and shellfish bound for human consumption. It’s been estimated that, in Europe, the average person who enjoys fish eats 11,000 plastic particles a year
25. In 2017, the Great British Beach Clean, organised by MCS, found over 18,000 unflushable items, including wet wipes and cotton buds, littering British beaches. An average of 27 wet wipes were found for every 100 metres of coastline, an increase of 94 per cent on the previous year
26. MCS removed 568,000 pieces of litter from British beaches in a single year
27. Balloons sold as degradable last for months or even years. Don’t release them. Balloons, balloon string and sky lanterns are a choking hazard for birds and marine life
28. Scientists have collected 750,000 bits of microplastic in a single kilometre of the Great Pacific Garbage patch. Most comes from plastic bottles, bags, bottle tops and Styrofoam cups
29. Discarded fishing gear such as nets, buoys and lines accounts for 60 per cent of ocean plastic
30. A lot of ocean rubbish comes from ships that have lost their loads. In 1990, five shipping containers of Nike sneakers and work boots were lost to the Pacific in a storm. Two years later, a ship lost tens of thousands of bathtub toys, including turtles, beavers, and frogs. In 1994, a ship lost 34,000 pieces of hockey gear, including gloves, chest protectors, and shin guards.
31. If we don’t change our behaviour, by 2050, there could be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the sea
32. Americans throw away 2 billion disposable razors a year
'The impact of ocean plastics is now on an unprecedented scale – they’re a toxic sponge for man-made chemicals, impacting the whole ocean ecosystem.'
Marine Conservation Society