The ocean covers 70 percent of the world, but the full scope of what we know about life in the ocean remains mostly unknown. Human activity contributes to issues like ocean warming, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification—even for people who live nowhere near a coastline. National Geographic says that “more than 80 percent of marine pollution comes from land-based activities.”
Addressing problems with the ocean and the range of damage caused by human error seems like an insurmountable task. Perhaps the hardest truth for humanity to face is that real change requires thoughtful action, like people leaving their comfort zones. One of the easiest ways to address the plastic pollution problem is to learn about the harmful effects human activity has on the earth. At Socktopus, Ink., we've made it easy for you: Read on for the 10 pollution facts everyone should know, plus information on what action you can take today.
The Facts About Pollution
More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since the 1950s.
Plastic was first produced on a large scale in the 1950s by rich and powerful countries. People still sing the praises of plastic for its affordability, cleanliness, and safety for daily use. In light of increasing data behind plastic pollution, public opinion is shifting. But it’s not happening quickly enough. Most of the plastic ever made is in landfills or the natural environment, according to a study published in 2017 by Science Advances.
Plastic has made our lives undeniably futuristic. We’ve made strides in medicine and technology, and use it for nearly everything, whether we are conscious of its constant presence or not. Drink companies alone produce over 500 billion single-use plastic bottles annually, and major coffee companies like Starbucks produce 4 billion plastic beverage cups per year.
50 percent of the plastic is only used once before it becomes trash in the ocean.
Single-use plastics are the ultimate convenience tool. They are cheap to produce and buy. When people purchase or use something like a plastic water bottle, or eat takeout food from containers with plastic utensils, they get used once and tossed away. This behavior comes at a cost: If you were to line up each piece of single-use plastic that is thrown away every year, you would have enough plastic to circle the earth four times.
The problem of single-use plastics is clear when looking at how much energy it takes to make each item, compared with its short lifespan. Single-use plastic quickly ends up in a landfill or as litter in natural ecosystems. Currently, plastic production accounts for eight percent of the world's oil production. With our current understanding of plastic pollution and its waste, you might think that plastic use overall would diminish. However, it continues to rise: People understand the excessive wastefulness of single-use plastics, but continue to use and dispose of them in massive quantities.
Ocean pollution is still a serious problem: At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year
For many people, once waste is in a bin, it’s out of sight and out of mind. 8 million tons might be an unimaginable amount of waste for any individual to conceptualize, but it’s the reality of the amount of plastic pollution created every year. Human activity is at the core of this plastic waste problem, but the demand and consumption of plastic continues to grow, revealing some deep-seated issues with corporations and governments, and communities.
Some people are still unaware of the impacts of recycling, or do not need to think about how individual behavior has a damaging domino effect on precious natural resources like the ocean. The average U.S. citizen uses 167 plastic water bottles per year, but only recycles a mere 25 percent of them. This is only part of why every step you take to counter ocean pollution matters! Can you imagine what the world would be like if we recycled 75, or even 100 percent of the plastic we consumed?
Recycled plastic can be processed in unethical conditions. Countries like Canada, the U.S., and the UK export plastic waste to various countries in Asia and Africa offloading their trash problem to other communities.
Here is the hard truth about the plastic recycling programs in wealthy countries like the United States: The burden gets passed onto impoverished people who depend on low-paying jobs like sorting our recyclables for just a few dollars a day. According to a report by The Guardian, 68,000 shipping containers of plastic recycling from the United States were exported into developing countries in 2019. The same report lists the world’s poorest nations as recycling hotspots, and it’s no coincidence that they are some of the world’s poorest nations: Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia, and Senegal.
Once our exported recyclables make it to its destination, 20 to 70 percent of them are discarded for being unusable. The benefit to wealthier countries, of course, is the opportunity for profit. There are little to no consequences for unlicensed processing factories in places like Malaysia, where plastic can be burned if it is unusable, releasing burn-off chemicals into the surrounding environment and neighborhoods. The types of pollution plastic creates ranges from physical piles of waste, to toxic fumes in the air. Although some countries like China recently refused any more imported recycling from the United States, other countries that need the compensation show no signs of stopping the process.
It’s a dolphin! It’s a shark! It’s… ocean plastic. 46 percent of plastics float (EPA 2006) and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres.
All plastic ever produced still exists in some form. It takes between 500 and 1,000 years for plastic to fully degrade. It sounds similar to what you might find in a museum, but the reality is not as majestic. Besides the small amount of plastic that gets incinerated, it either gets buried in landfills, or dumped into the ocean with huge patches of free-flowing garbage. Some innovative thinkers have been at work to produce solutions and to understand the impacts of things like microplastics, but enforcing regulations and removing microscopic pieces of plastic without harming marine life remains a challenge, to say the least. The battle against microplastics is better fought at the source of production.
Ocean gyres are circular currents that are naturally created by the earth’s rotation. This seemingly lovely scientific concept is largely known for the stationary areas of the ocean it creates, where gyres collect and distribute ocean debris in giant patches around the world. Larger pieces of plastic break down over time into plankton-sized chunks, which can look particularly appetizing to a hungry marine life.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California and is the largest ocean garbage site in the world.
Plastic waste facts are ocean facts. It is impossible to talk about the natural functions of the oceans without considering the impacts of excessive waste from human activity. Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean's surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
A few companies, like, The Ocean Cleanup, are working to remove waste from the surface of the ocean. Their goal is to remove 90 percent of all floating ocean plastic around the world. But one-time cleanup efforts are not the solution to the problem of garbage patches. We need to raise awareness about plastic pollution and change our collective mindset on consumption.
One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
Ocean life is precious, and should not be at odds with our plastic consumption habits. Scientists have documented 700 marine species affected by ocean plastic, and still do not fully understand the extent of the damage that plastic waste has done so far.
Who hasn’t seen the images of sea turtles with plastic straws sticking out of their nostrils? It’s heart-wrenching, and is a clear example that marine life is suffering from unnecessary harm.
Government bans and restrictions for unnecessary and damaging plastic products or activities are on the rise.
The facts surrounding plastic waste aren’t all bad. Fortunately, with the growth of the anti-plastic movement, more governments around the world are considering or enforcing restrictions on plastic. Even more important is holding plastic producers accountable for the products they create.
In most of the European Union and some of the United States, Mandated Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations hold corporations accountable for the entire lifecycle and true costs of their products, not limited to the harmful effects of plastic on the environment.
Governments around the world are providing incentives and new corporate reuse models to deliver products using less or no packaging.
As individuals who care about the earth, we can shout about the dangers of plastic until we’re blue in the face, but it won’t make a big difference until the business of plastic production changes, too. Getting rid of plastic should be everyone’s burden, and that includes companies, politicians, and communities as a whole. Currently, some states in the U.S. offer tax incentives for companies that purchase and distribute products and packaging made with recyclable materials.
Our journey with plastic and recycling will continue to grow and change in unpredictable ways. Holding major perpetrators of plastic pollution accountable, including our own communities, companies, and politicians is the first step to transformative change for everyone.
The Importance of a Healthy Ocean
We may not know or understand everything about the ocean, but we know that human activity is a large part of why the ocean is changing for the worse. With every step forward that we’ve taken with futuristic technology, we seem to take two steps back in ocean health. Meanwhile, we ignore the fact that healthy oceans will ultimately help every living creature on the planet experience a life of health and well-being.
As Rachel Carson said in a 1961 edition of The Sea Around Us, “Man’s knowledge of the oceans is meager indeed compared with their importance to him.” We know so much about what the ocean can do for us, but act as if we’re ignorant of the many advantages the ocean provides all species of life: Clean air, a regulated climate, worldwide transportation, everyday fun, food, and even medicine. There are solutions to this willful ignorance, and it begins with individual action.
The most important thing for people passionate about change for the earth is to know that making smart choices for consumption is easier than it seems, and every individual’s contribution counts.
Working together to find a resolution
Socktopus started as a long-term initiative to work against the harmful effects of plastic pollution. It’s true that older generations must take accountability for their actions and show compassion for the planet by joining a movement like ours, but we want the importance of the ocean and marine life to resonate with the vibrance and open-minds of new generations of children and young families. We believe that the best way to inspire a generation of people to care about the ocean is to make it a part of kids’ lives from the start.
The fight against plastic pollution started from the ground up, which is just part of why our first solution is socks made of recycled plastic fibers. We want the smiling marine life characters like Donna, Finley, Manny, and the rest of the Socktopus crew to energize people to take meaningful action towards protecting the well-being of marine life and our oceans. Our first line of baby, toddler, and kids socks are weaved from breathable fibers made with 100% recycled plastic. We can deliver positive messages to our children to keep our oceans clean and take care of the environment by reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Here, we imagine a generation of climate activists taking their first steps with Socktopus. Inspiring optimism and compassion towards protecting our oceans is the long-term change our world desperately needs. We can encourage future generations to be curious, ask questions, and become fully immersed in educational experiences is the best way to save the planet. All we need to do is lead by example. Feeling inspired to make a change? Share these plastic pollution facts with a loved one and help grow the movement today!