Ocean Plastic Pollution: 11 Facts You Need to Know


There are lots of fish in the sea, but there are also lots of plastic.

A couple of years ago, I spend my summer at the seaside: I sunbathed, snorkeled, and built lots of sandcastles. As you do.

One day, building my state-of-the-art sand château, a thought crossed my mind:

When I built sandcastles as a kid…were there as many little pieces of plastic as there are now?

I’m not sure, but I remember using shells as windows, and not bright pieces of unidentified hard plastic.

But what I do remember is going to a beach in the north of Spain called something like Beach of the mermaid tears (so whimsical, I know). I was about 8 at the time and, of course, I loved the place. The sand was covered by white and green pieces of some kind of magical translucent rock. Obviously, mermaid tears.

Now I know the place wasn’t that magical, it was just full of weathered glass brought to the coast by the waves.

So after seeing all this plastic waste ruining what should be the view of a perfectly golden Mediterranean beach, I sat down to do a bit of research about ocean pollution in general, and what I found out blew my mind.

Ocean pollution doesn’t only affect fish and coral reefs – it affects you and me directly, and it contributes to making global warming worse.


11 facts about ocean plastic pollution

1. There are 150 million tons of plastic floating around our oceans

UN clean seas exhibit plastic pollution
UN Clean Seas Exhibit, New York

And each year, 8 million tons are dumped in the ocean.

A picture is worth a thousand words so every half second, this amount of plastic enters our oceans.

Of all this plastic, 269,000 tons are microplastics – more or less 51 trillion pieces, which is 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy.

2. Between 60 and 90% of ocean litter is plastic-based

  • Two-thirds come from the land – beach litter, urban waste, pollution from rivers, drains, industry waste, landfills.
  • One third “comes from the sea” – mostly fishing gear and trash thrown overboard from ships.

3. Plastic in the ocean can go as deep as 11 km into the ocean

This means that we have managed to pollute some of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth.

And microplastics have even been found in the Arctic snow! That’s wild.

Read more: Saving the Coral Reefs – Why and How

4. Many of the fish we eat have already consumed microplastics

I’m not here to make you reconsider your diet…but 1 out of every 3 fish caught for human consumption has plastic in their guts. Yummy.

Meaning that ocean plastic ends up inside of us.

Meaning that it affects us directly. Isn’t that reason enough to do something about it?

This problem is too recent, so its consequences for human health are not known yet. But what is sure is that it might be linked to endocrine disorders – you can read more about this topic in this post.

5. There are five massive garbage patches floating in our oceans

Probably you know at least one of them: the North Pacific garbage patch.

Researchers calculate it’s three times the size of France – or twice the size of Texas.

These are literal plastic continents created by the confluence of water currents that bring trash from all over the planet to one spot.

If we wanted to clean it up, we would need 67 ships working non-stop for 1 year to clean up just 1% of it. Good news is that there are active projects like The Ocean Cleanup that aim to research and develop technologies to help fix this massive problem.

6. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains approx. 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and weighs around 80,000 tons

The man who found it, journalist Charles Moore, said he found objects such as *clears throat*

  • a drum of hazardous chemicals
  • an inflated volleyball, half-covered in gooseneck barnacles
  • a plastic coat hanger with a swivel hook
  • a cathode-ray tube for a nineteen-inch TV
  • fishing floats
  • a gallon bleach bottle that was so brittle it crumbled in his hands

Pretty normal stuff to find in the middle of the ocean, ya know.

7. Plastic is part of the diets of many marine animals

Most animals who live close to garbage patches cannot tell the difference between real food and plastic. So they eat plastic and then end up starving because they cannot digest it.

Some figures:

microplastics on the beach

9. Most of the ocean plastics found on the coast are single-use

This year’s International Coastal Cleanup organized by Ocean Conservancy involved 800,000 people from all over the world cleaning up their local beaches. This is what they found:

  • Cigarette butts (2,412,151)
  • Food wrappers (1,739,743)
  • Plastic bottles (1,569,135)
  • Bottle caps (1,091,107)
  • Plastic bags (757,523)
  • Straws and stirrers (643,562)
  • Plastic takeaway containers (632,874)
  • Plastic lids (624,878)
  • Foam takeaway containers (580,570)

Read more: Hidden Plastic in Everyday Stuff

10. China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam

These five countries are responsible for 60% of all ocean plastic pollution.

What do they have in common? They are very fast-developing and highly populated countries without waste management systems ready to keep up with their growth.

Also, countries of the global north like to send their trash to these countries, which reaaally doesn’t help.

11. Business as usual, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight

Now what?

Don’t let this information get you down. But don’t forget about it either!

We need to know the problems we have before even being able to solve them, right?

20 companies create 55% of plastic waste, so cleaning up the mess they made is not your responsibility. They are the ones that have to change, but if you want to do your bit you can send your policymakers a petition asking for bans on single-use plastic, or you can use your consumer superpowers and boycott polluting industries.

If you want to reduce your plastic waste but don’t know where to start, these posts might help you:


What do you think?

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