Christmas season is in full swing. The trees are being decorated, the turkeys are being ordered and the presents are being wrapped. It is the time of year when we gather together with family and friends to celebrate the glory of the consumptive feast that December has become. More often than not our gifts and our food come packaged in excessive layers of plastic. But according to a recent report this way of life is having a devastating impact on our oceans.
Plastic particles are now found in all the oceans of the world. The harm which this causes to wildlife is plain. Particles containing harmful toxic chemicals are being consumed by marine wildlife who are in turn consumed by larger marine fauna, thus the toxins move up the foodchain potentially effecting the whole biosystem. These poison laden creatures may even find their way on to our dinner plates. Aside from ingestion there is also the danger entanglement in discarded containers for beer, old fishing lines and many other potential death traps. It is a scenario we have long been familiar with. However for the first time we have an estimate of the volume of plastic polluting and killing our oceans.
The report titled "Plastic Pollution in the World´s Oceans" has sought to quantify the extent of the plastic problem. Conducting their research over a six year period (2007-2013) the scientists found that 268,940 tons of plastic, or 5.25 trillion particles, were spread across the world´s oceans. These are considered to be conservative estimates.
Much of this plastic ends up being concentrated in gyres, of which there are five in the world. Large swathes of water are covered in a gradually increasing mass of plastic caught up in the whirlpool like gyres that are created by a combination of wind and ocean currents and the rotation of the earth. According to 5gyres.org the North Pacific Gyre spans nearly twice the size of the United States.
The problem is not new. It has been known for many years that the oceans are being slowly killed by our consumptive and wasteful economy.
The UK alone produces an estimated 275,000 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. It is not unreasonable to suggest that our plastic waste will spike nearer to and after the Christmas period.
We are reaching the point when a recycling mentally may not be enough.The time is quickly approaching when the entire system of consumption that drives our economy will need to be reviewed. It is necessary to protect the Oceans for future generations, to protect the marine wildlife that dwells within them and also to protect ourselves. Otherwise our love of things and stuff wrapped tightly in nice plastic containers may slowly kill us too.