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Plastic Pollution: What It Is, Who Caused It, And How To Clean It Up

According to the USGS, the United States Geological Survey, 71 percent of the earth's surface is covered by water -- a whopping 332,500,000 cubic miles -- and 96.5 percent of that water resides in our oceans. It seems only logical to take care of our oceans but, unfortunately, that has not been the case. We are facing an epic plastic pollution problem. 

What Is Plastic Pollution?

Plastic, around in various synthetic forms since Bakelite was introduced in 1907, is a polymer (a type of chemical compound) and, as such, is not biodegradable. The problem is that while we humans may throw things away, the things don't really go anywhere. The trash service collection company may take them away to a landfill, but they do not go away. In fact, they are clogging up waterways, draining systems, and the ocean and may take 600 years or more to break down. 

Who Is Responsible for the Plastic in the Ocean?

Every human on this planet who has ever used plastic has contributed to the plastic pollution in the ocean. It is estimated that the United States contributed to as much as one-third of the plastic currently in the ocean. It is important to note that the United States stopped dumping plastics and other waste in the ocean after the passage and implementation of the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act in 1988.

Currently, the biggest threats to our oceans are China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. They dump more plastics in the ocean than the rest of the world combined

Is There a Plastic Island in the Ocean?

In 1997, researchers discovered a patch of garbage floating in the ocean full of plastics. Now dubbed the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," it is an area of the Pacific Ocean where the current naturally gathers much of the floating debris into one place and it is huge. In fact, while it has been measured on the surface as covering 1.6 million square kilometers, scientists estimate that nearly 70 percent is below the surface, slowly sinking to the ocean floor. 

How Many Marine Animals Are Killed by Plastic Each Year?

The real problem lies in microplastics. As the sun's intense UV rays beat down on the floating island of plastic waste, the plastic breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces are then accidentally consumed by fish and other marine life with dire consequences. 

What Can We Do to Stop More Plastic From Being Dumped in the Ocean?

Individual laws are constantly being introduced as countries become aware of the growing problem and try to reduce their contribution to plastic pollution. There are also agreements among first-world countries to try to help the climate on a global scale, like the Paris Agreement, sponsored by the United Nations.  

What Can We Do to Remove the Existing Plastic?

In the meantime, the existing plastic needs to be removed. There are many creative minds working on solutions from different angles, which is what we need.

Some activists are just physically pulling trash out of the ocean and disposing of it in a better manner. In fact, one group pulled 80,000 pounds out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2019 in just one trip.

Some scientists and experts are trying to find solutions to the problem by thinking outside of the proverbial box and coming up with ways to re-use that plastic. A popular solution is to turn the marine and coastal recovered plastic into yarn. This plastic 'yarn' or thread is then used in various commercial applications. For more information, visit a website like

The mantra of recycling is being applied to plastic pollution in the ocean: reduce, reuse, recycle.