2017: Warning signs of the “Plastipocalypse”

by John Hocevar

December 6, 2017

Ok, so you already know plastic is a problem. As bad as you thought it was, though, researchers in 2017 kept showing us it was even worse. Here are some of the “highlights” from one year of plastic pollution studies.

© Daniel Müller / Greenpeace

Remember the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? All that plastic is still there and in other vast ocean gyres where currents concentrate plastic debris. (We even discovered a new trash vortex in the Caribbean.) But this year, we learned a bit more about just how much plastic we’re really dealing with: 8.3 billion tons of plastic, all produced over the last 65 years.

Floating plastic trash in Hua Lamphong canal behind Klong toey community, Bangkok, Thailand

Plastics use has increased twenty-fold in the past half-century and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. It’s showing up in the far reaches of the Arctic, remote Pacific islands, and even six miles below the surface, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Where is all this plastic going? Fish are eating it. Lanternfish appear to be eating so much of it that it is impacting their little known but impressive contribution to mitigating climate change. Corals are eating it. Whales are eating it – and washing up dead with their stomachs full of bags and other plastic debris. Seabirds are still eating it, including three-quarters of northeastern Atlantic species.

Plastic is crossing the blood-brain barrier! (Yes, that is EXACTLY as scary as it sounds.) Chemists at Lund University found that microplastics travel up the food chain as the plankton which ingest them are eaten by larger and larger fish. The terrifying revelation, though, was that these tiny bits of plastic were passing into the brains of predator fish, causing serious behavioral disorders.

Plastic is in our drinking water. A new investigation found plastic in tap water and bottled water all over the world. Contamination was found to be highest in the U.S., with plastic showing up in 94% of samples. There is so much plastic out there now that it is starting to turn up in your sea salt. And as the Guardian reported, “Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year.”

Don’t despair, fight back! Tell the CEOs of seven of the biggest producers of single-use plastic that it is time for them to get serious about ending plastic pollution. And see what other actions you can take here. Together we have the power to turn the tide on plastic pollution!

 

John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

An accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine biologist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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