Introduction: Plastic Pollution in Oceans
Despite regulations at public beaches regarding not littering or leaving trash behind, our oceans are becoming increasing polluted. Of all the waste products that end up in the oceans, 80% originates from that left by people on land and most of it is made up of plastic. Plastic pollution in our water ways effects our ecosystem, the wildlife and health of humans. Marine life that consumes plastic often dies from choking or blockages, while the toxic chemicals in plastic when broken down can further harm the health of marine animals and plant life, as well as human health.
Plastic is a particular problematic to marine life because it is not biodegradable. Substances that are biodegradable can be broken down by natural substances into natural chemicals found in our atmosphere so they won’t pose a threat to the local ecosystem, and they quickly degrade into the smallest chemical compounds. On the other hand, many types of plastic go through photodegredation, which means it is broken down by heat, however, this process just breaks plastic down into smaller pieces all of which retain the original properties of the plastic. While this process is slow to begin with, it is slower in the ocean where the water cools the plastic and slows the process even more (Natural Resources Defense Council).
More recent studies show that some plastics do break down relatively quickly in ocean water and create additional problems for sea life and humans. A study done on the coast of Japan showed that plastic can start to break down and leach toxic chemicals into the water and air within a year. The two highest levels of chemicals that leach into oceans from plastics are bisphenol A and PS oligomers. These two substances alter the hormonal and reproductive systems of marine life. It has also been shown that plastic breakdown in the oceans causes the release of three carcinogens into the atmosphere. Styrene monomer (SM) is one of these and has long been recognized as a potential cancer causing agent which styrene dimer (SD) and styrene trimer (ST) are strongly believed to cause cancer based on the research to date. The toxins, irritants and pollutants release by plastics during breakdown in the ocean also are contributing to long term negative environmental impact all over the planet (American Chemical Society).
American Chemical Society. "Plastics In Oceans Decompose, Release Hazardous Chemicals,
Surprising New Study Says." ScienceDaily. 20 August 2009. Web. 8 June 2014.
Natural Resources Defense Council. 3 Solutions to Plastic Pollution in our Oceans 8 March
2014. Web. 8 June 2014.