We know our oceans are inundated with plastic refuse, but what exactly constitutes this waste? A detailed study has found single-use bags, bottles, food containers and food wrappers are the four most commonly found plastic pollutants in sea waters. These four products constitute almost 50% of all man-made waste making its way into oceans, the study has found.
It is quite evident now that takeaway food and drinks are the major causes of sea litter. Researchers combined 12 million data points from 36 databases all over the world to draw these conclusions, which make it clear what action needs to be taken and in which direction.
“We were not surprised about plastic being 80% of the litter, but the high proportion of takeaway items did surprise us, which will not just be McDonald’s litter, but water bottles, beverage bottles like Coca-Cola, and cans,” lead researcher Carmen Morales-Caselles of the University of Cádiz, Spain, told The Guardian.
The European Union recently banned plastic straws and cotton buds. However, the two together make just 2% of the trash that ends up in the oceans. “It’s good that there is action against plastic cotton buds, but if we don’t add to this action the top litter items, then we are not dealing with the core of the problem – we’re getting distracted,” Morales-Caselles added.
Prof Richard Thompson, of the University of Plymouth in the UK, said the study will of immense help in convincing the naysayers because it is based on data and numbers do not lie.
One of the limitations of the study was that it considered items bigger than 3cm and identifiable, excluding fragments and microplastics. The plastic problem would have looked much bigger and threatening than it looks right now.
The Guardian report said that most plastic refuse was found on shorelines and sea floors near coasts. Wind and waves sweep litter to the coasts, where it gets dumped. Fishing material, such as ropes and nets, were significant only in the open oceans, where they made up about half the total litter.
Another study has found that US and UK residents produce more plastic waste per person than any other major countries in the world.
The study suggests complete ban on takeaway plastic items such as single-use bags. Where deemed absolutely necessary, the responsibility for collection and safe disposal of products should be fixed on manufacturers, the researchers stated.