Plastic compost? How long does it take?

December 22, 2013

One of the most serious threats to our oceans is plastics pollution. Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. Why is there so much plastic in the ocean? Unlike other types of trash, plastic does not biodegrade; instead, it photo-degrades with sunlight, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they never really disappear. These plastic pieces are eaten by marine life, wash up on beaches, or break down into microscopic plastic dust, attracting more debris.

 

Plastic is also swept away by ocean currents, landing in swirling vortexes called ocean gyres. The North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest ocean garbage site in the world. The floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life by a measure of 6 to 1. These floating garbage sites are impossible to fully clean up.

 

Plastic poses a significant threat to the health of sea creatures, both big and small. Over 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds die each year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic.

 

It takes 500-1000 years for plastic to degrade. Even if we stopped using plastics today, they will remain with us for many generations, threatening both human and ocean health. Despite these alarming facts, there are actions we can take to address the problem of plastics.

 

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