Plastic accumulation in the marine environment causes significant environmental impacts, and unfortunately, this issue was exacerbated by the pandemic, where we will have “more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean,” said Laurent Lombard of Opération Mer Propre NGO. This ongoing problem forces us to rethink the responsability to restrict plastic production.
It is estimated that the production of plastics increased nearly 200 fold and it is caused by just two third of the world population.
The main reasons for the popularity of the use of plastic material are the superior chemical properties such as toughness, lightness, hydrophobicity and longevity.
This persistent nature of plastic make it not readily degradable and induce significant impacts on the environment and human health.
How plastics are ending up in ocean?
About 80% of plastics in ocean are from land based sources. Plastics from landfill enter into the ocean through poor management and improper disposal of sewages and plastic wastes, coastal landfill operations and litter carried through streams and rivers.
Remaining 20% are by litters generated from ships/boats through recreational activities, discharge of litters, fishing nets etc.
What are the impacts of plastics on the marine organisms?
Marine animals are attracted to plastics by its odour, colour and through algae that grows on floating plastics – a major food source for marine animal.
Synthetic plastic wastes are highly resistant to biodegradation and causes varied environmental concerns associated with ingestion, suffocation, accumulation and exerts long-term toxic effects on marine organisms.
But micro and nanoplastics are easily taken up by marine organisms. Their small size makes them easy to penetrate any tissue and to accumulate in organs.
As a result, these particles are readily bioavailable to corals, planktons, crustaceans, mollusks etc; and get bio-accumulated in various food chains.
Do we need a biodegradation solution or to restrict plastic production?
Biodegradation have become a widely approved category of degradation mechanism due to its eco-friendly nature and affordability. For scientists, biodegradation of plastics waste is an important area of research to solve many environmental problems. The degradation studies included a variety of biotic and abiotic factors (pH, UV, temperature, salinity), the isolation of microbes and the use of enzymes.
Till date synthetic polymer biodegradation has not been applied on commercial scale due to their slow degradation rate.
The problem with plastics in our oceans is actually led by a broken system in which we design products without considering what happens to them after they are used. The Mediterranean sees 570,000 tonnes of plastic flowing there each year – the equivalent of dumping 33,800 plastic bottles every minute into the sea, as described by the WWF.
This fact states that we will have no effective solution for plastics pollution in the marine environment other than to restrict its production.