Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals, and more than 1 million seabirds die each year from ocean pollution and ingestion or entanglement in marine debris. Marine debris is manmade waste that is directly or indirectly disposed of in oceans, rivers, and other waterways.
Most trash reaches the seas via rivers, and 80% originates from landfills and other urban sources. This waste, which is also consumed by fish and can entangle sharks and damage coral reefs, tends to accumulate in gyres (areas of slow spiraling water and low winds) and along coastlines.
There are 5 major ocean gyres worldwide. In the Pacific Ocean, the North Pacific Gyre is home to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, a large area that is approximately the size of Texas with debris extending 20 feet (6 meters) down into the water column. It’s estimated that this “plastic island” contains 3.5 million tons of trash and could double in size in the next 5 years.
Researchers have also estimated that for every 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of plankton in this area, there is 13.2 pounds (6 kilograms) of plastic. Common marine debris items includes things like cigarette butts, cans, plastic bags and bottles, styrofoam, balloons, lighters, and toothbrushes. Discarded or lost fishing gear such as lines, nets and buoys are especially dangerous to sea life.
Time to degrade
|Paper towel||2-4 weeks|
|Cardboard box||2 months|
|Waxed milk carton||3 months|
|Apple core||2 months|
|Cotton gloves||1-5 months|
|Wool gloves||1 year|
|Painted wooden sticks||13 years|
|Photo-degradable beverage holder||6 months|
|Plastic beverage holder||400 years|
|Plastic bags||10-20 years|
|Plastic bottle||100 years|
|Glass bottle and jars||undetermined|
|Disposable diapers||50-100 years|
|Tin can||50 years|
|Aluminium can||200 years|
|Monofilament fishing line||600 years|