Breaking down the Plastic Pollution Myths

Originally posted on Plastic Oceans UK website on March 28, 2019.

There are many plastic pollution myths floating around out there. We are here to dispel the myths and provide the plastic pollution facts.

1. ‘There is a huge floating island of plastic out in the Pacific Ocean, 3 times the size of Texas called, ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’

Simply, there isn’t.

There is no giant floating island of plastic at the centre of the Pacific or any other parts of the Ocean. The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch is invisible from the surface however, plankton nets reveal the true nature of the problem which is an accumulation of microplastics that fill up each net in concentrations that increase towards the Ocean centre.

2. ‘A plastic bottle will take 450 years to break down’

Plastic doesn't breakdown it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, and it's only been around for 150 years, so we can't put a timeframe on it.

These statistics come from old educational materials released by the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The original source adds the caveat that “many scientists believe plastics never entirely go away. These decomposition rates are estimates for the time it takes for these items to become microscopic and no longer be visible”.

As well as oversimplifying the risk, this irresponsibly ignores the threat of microplastics. Plastic is indestructible, it was designed to defy nature, designed not to decompose.

3. ‘By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the Ocean’

The estimation as to the number of fish in the Ocean is based on a prediction from the Ocean Conservancy, based on this 2008 article, that fish stocks would be 812 million in 2015. This statistic assumes that fish stocks will stay constant until 2050. This is incredibly unlikely due to pressures from overfishing, climate change, and plastic pollution itself.

Our concern is that we are destroying the deep Ocean bed before we even begin to know and understand the marine life there as new species are being discovered all the time.

It is true that at current rates there will come a time when there is more plastic than fish in the Ocean unless something changes. This may be much sooner than 2050.

4. ‘We need to recycle more’

This is problematic, as we need to stop thinking that we can recycle our way out of this mess. The plastic recycling process is now a circular process. Only 1% of plastic produced goes through the recycling process. 

Plastic production must decrease, yet it is currently increasing exponentially and recycling does nothing to abate this. This is because most plastic decreases in quality each time it is recycled, until it loses its value entirely and virgin plastic must be created. How many black plastic park benches do we want on this planet?

5. ‘We should replace tarmac with recycled plastic for our road surfaces’

This is a measure supported by some of the biggest producers of plastic waste, yet it is rife with risks.

Studies have already revealed that the second biggest input of microfibres into our Ocean are the fibres that come from car tyres. How might that increase if we start covering our roads with plastic too? Research is only beginning into the nanoplastics in the air that we breathe. How might vast stretches of plastic-covered roads contribute to these, especially on hot days?

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