Plastic marine debris is increasingly recognized as a global problem that requires urgent solution. Plastic debris is unsightly, hazardous to marine species as well as mariners, and has negative effects on the economy. The main solutions lie in reusing and recycling plastics and ensuring proper disposal of the remaining plastics.
Globally, over 280 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually. A key benefit of plastics is their durability, yet around one third of production is of disposable packaging, discarded within a year of production. As a result, plastic debris are accumulating in the environment as well as in regulated landfills (1). In the marine environment, 75% of all debris is plastic, contaminating habitats from the polar regions to the equator and from shorelines to the deep sea (2). The distribution of debris is not uniform, and it can be transported to locations far from population centres (3). This debris can persist for decades, but patterns of abundance over time are far from clear; some studies show an increase while others show no clear trend. It has been suggested that there may be unrecognised “sinks” where considerable quantities of plastic are accumulating (2).
Plastic debris is unsightly, has negative effects on the economy, and can present a hazard to mariners (4). Considerable expense is therefore invested in removing debris form ports and shorelines (5). Encounters between marine debris and marine species have been reported for over 660 species; 80% of these encounters are with plastic debris. Physical harm to individuals includes entanglement, leading to lacerations and mortality.