The increasing presence of plastic in our environment is a concern for Miami Beach and other coastal municipalities. Plastic has become a prominent material in our everyday lives due to it’s versatility, durability, and low production cost. Although it has provided numerous benefits to the modern world, it is estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean annually and 100 million marine animals are killed every year due to plastic debris. Just as importantly, almost half of the plastic produced is considered to be single-use plastic; meaning that it is only used once and then discarded.
Event though some types of plastic can be recycled; it has been found that only a fifth of the plastic being produced globally is recyclable. This supports the importance of reducing our dependency on single-use plastic by switching to sustainable materials or better yet, opting for reusable products.
Plastic comprises up to 97% of marine debris, and its dominance in the environment is explained by its abundance and nearly endless lifecycle. According to a United Nations (UN), over eight million metric tons of plastic are found in our oceans every year, impacting our marine wildlife, fisheries, and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. The remains and broken-down particles of these types of plastic can be ingested by wildlife such as shore birds, sea turtles, and fish. The UN believes it is critical to the public’s health, safety, and welfare to reduce litter and pollutants.
Check out the infograph below from the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to learn more about the impacts of plastic on our natural environment. According to NOAA, plastic debris are very damaging to the marine environment due to their durability. They usually take longer to biodegrade compared to other materials, and as they get exposed to elements like sun and saltwater, they break into smaller pieces. NOAA explains that once these pieces are less than 5 milliters, they are called “microplastics” and at that point, it’s really difficult to remove them from ours waters. More information on NOAA's research on plastic pollution can be found here: https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/plastic.html
Single-use plastic and the resulting debris is a global issue. Although action at a local level is important, it’s also vital to keep in mind that a worldwide change needs to be made. Debris accumulates in the ocean as a result of many natural factors including ocean currents. Rotating currents, also known as gyres, spiral around a central point. Marine debris gets caught and begins piling up within these gyres which overtime become garbage patches. The most notable of these garbage patches is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which measures approximately 617,763 square miles. The Atlantic Ocean has southern and north gyres which have been discovered to have two separate garbage patches similar to the Pacific.
Learn more about single-use plastics and how you can help protect our environment and marine habitats.