Understanding Ocean Plastics Is Key To Keeping Our Oceans Healthy

Ocean plastic is found in nearly every corner of our seas; from the most remote beaches to the arctic ice. An estimated 4.7 to 12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic enter our oceans annually. If we take the mid-point that’s about 17,637,000,000 pounds of plastic every year, or enough to fill 5 grocery bags for every single foot of coastline in the world. If that alone weren’t bad enough, here’s a snapshot of what that means:

  • There are an estimated 5.25 TRILLION pieces of plastic in the ocean.
  • By 2050 we could have more plastic than fish in our oceans.
  • At least 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year because of plastic pollution.
  • Toxic chemicals accumulate in ocean plastic (sometimes concentrating at 1 million times higher than the water around it) and end up in our food chain.

The common understanding is that there are huge ‘garbage islands’ floating in the middle of the ocean – but that’s not quite true. These floating garbage patches aren’t always visible from the air — or even from a passing boat — since most of the plastic is floating just beneath the surface, and most of the pieces are smaller than 1 centimeter in diameter. Over time, the plastic bits get broken down into ever smaller pieces as they get battered by waves and degraded by the sun.


So how does all this plastic find it’s way out to the middle of the ocean? As it turns out, about 80 percent of ocean plastic gets there from the land.  Most of our plastic garbage does end up in landfills, where it takes thousands of years to degrade. A small fraction gets recycled – in the United States, the rate is only about 9 percent.

However, many developing countries don’t have the infrastructure to deal with solid waste, so plastic is pushed into the ocean-bound waterways rather than collected to be brought to landfills. Plastic leaks from garbage dumps, gets blown out by the wind, flows down storm drains and is carried out to sea by rivers and waterways.

How do we start finding solutions? As it turns out, plastic is very valuable and there’s a real business solution to the ocean plastic problem. Between $80 and $120 billion dollars is lost to the economy each year when we dispose of plastic packaging.

You can get reveal value in plastic by asking a brand to use Social Plastic® on Twitter or supporting brands who use Social Plastic® – like these high-end sunglasses made from the plastic we collect in Haiti.

Social Plastic® is sold to impact-driven brands to transfer the value of the plastic into the hands of the people who collect it.  By making plastic waste a currency, it becomes too valuable to end up in ocean-bound rivers and waterways.