By now, you may have heard that there’s an island of plastic the size of Texas floating around our oceans, but the reality is slightly more complicated than the urban legend would have you believe. There’s no Texas-sized island floating around the high seas, but there really is a very large region of the Pacific dense with plastics of every kind. Now, a new study confirms that that plastic poses a serious threat to marine life.
The study, published this summer in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, contains a disturbing statistic — as much as 90% of marine birds have plastic in their digestive system right now. If that isn’t bad enough, the paper’s authors say that number will reach 95% by 2050.
“This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution,” said lead author Chris Wilcox.
Wilcox’s co-author Denise Hardesty says she’s opened up dead seagulls only to find things like glowsticks, lighters, and children’s toys. But Hardesty hopes the report won’t cause people to despair, and instead wants people to remain optimistic about the future.
“Even simple measures can make a difference,” Hardesty said. “Efforts to reduce plastics dumped into the environment in Europe resulted in measureable changes in plastic in seabird stomachs in less than a decade.”
That means increased efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle can have a positive impact in just a few years. Already, plastic is one of the most recycled materials on the planet. Of all municipal solid waste produced by American cities, plastics and plastic packaging account for 39.9% of all recycled materials, even though plastics only make up 13% of total waste.
Around the world, plastic manufacturers and startups are looking for new ways to divert plastics from landfills and ecosystems. Fortunately, cleaning the environment isn’t the only incentive to tackle the problem. Following the seabird study, CNBC reported on the big business opportunities for companies that find new ways to recover plastic. That means anyone who can discover more efficient ways to recover plastics could be in for a major windfall.