Do you know how long it takes for plastic to biodegrade? The answer is simple: It doesn’t. Most common plastics are not biodegradable, or able to be broken down by bacteria or living organisms. Most plastics are able to be broken down by the sun. But that doesn’t help the plastics at the bottom of landfills or on the ocean floor.
How long will plastic last in the ocean? In some cases, it’s centuries. More often, items like plastic bottles are pulverized into little bits due to friction. This means that big pieces of plastic are turned into microplastics, hardly larger than the size of a paperclip, and are dangerous chemicals.
For a large piece of plastic to turn into microplastics, it can take anywhere between 450 and 1,000 years. For lighter, thinner plastics, it can be less: About a hundred years is how long it takes for plastic bags to decompose. For plastic straws, disposable diapers, and Styrofoam, decomposition can take about 500 years.
The plastic pollution in the ocean will be doing untold damage to wildlife. Seabirds and ocean life often mistake plastic for food that will end up sitting in their stomachs. Plastic straws will end up stuck in the nostrils of sea turtles, long and thin microfibers from old polyester clothing will line the stomachs of fish and mussels, eventually killing them.
Just how much plastic is in the ocean? Facts about plastic are upsetting, There’s a giant plastic island in the ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that measures 1.6 million square kilometers, about the size of Mexico, and contains 80,000 tons of plastic (which is four times previous estimates). And that’s just one of the gyres full of plastic in our seas. A mega-expedition studied the patch, and the data is astounding.
Let’s together think more consciously about what we throw out and how long it takes for plastic to break down before tossing it in our ocean. Try to imagine how many straws you use per year, month, week and then think about how many people are just in the US. Or how many plastic bags are used every day, it’s crazy to think about!
I challenge you to start eliminating plastic you use and replacing them with reusable products. (see Ditch the Plastic)
ACTION ITEMS FOR STOPPING MICROPLASTIC POLLUTION
- Avoid products with known microplastics like microbeads in face washes and toothpaste.
- Stop using single-use plastics like straws, plastic shopping bags, and plastic drink cups. Think reusable!
- Cut out plastic in your consumption choices wherever you can. One easy switch is to buy soda in aluminum cans instead of plastic bottles. Start with one change at a time to make them stick.
- If you own a business, choose sustainable packaging.
- Write a letter asking your preferred companies to use sustainable packaging. You can also write to your city to advocate for a plastic bag ban.
- Strategically do your laundry. Try to make your synthetic clothes last as long as possible between washes to avoid microfiber pollution. Air them out in the sun or dust with baking soda to help absorb smells.
- Vote for legislation that puts bans or taxes on plastics.
- Recycle. Start recycling in your community; support recycling in your community; tell your recycling center how much you appreciate their work.
- Spread the word. Your friends, family, students, and co-workers and join efforts in cleaning up our oceans!
You might think that you as one person won’t make a difference but let me tell you, you will! One small change can make a huge impact and spreading the word will make an even bigger impact!
I would love to hear how you have reduced plastic in your homes and what products you use. Comment below and if you would like to receive more information, you can follow my blog here: