Overview and assessment of waste plastics in the ocean environment

Robert W. Peters, Rouzbeh Nazari, Mukti Patel, Taniya Sultana, A. B.M.Tausif Chy, Lisa McCormick, Samain Sabrin, Jeffrey R. Seay, Chandni Joshi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Humans are currently contributing to a major decline in the world's biological diversity. The problem is so critical that allhuman impacts combined might accelerate the present extinction rates from 1000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. Thethreat to marine life in the oceans comes in various forms such as dumping of waste, overexploitation and harvesting,pollution, alien species, land reclamation, dredging, and global climate change. One particular type of human impactthat represents a major threat to marine life is the pollution caused by plastic debris. Plastic has become one of themost common forms of pollution in the ocean and is causing problems to become more and more severe each day,impacting both the natural environment and human life. Since the end of World War II, plastics have been produced in large and exponential quantities. They represent adiverse group of materials which are derived from petrochemicals. Their production has increased exponentially from1,700,000 tons in 1950 to more than 280,000,000 tons in 2011. Although plastics are recyclable, they contribute toproducing a significant amount of waste globally. For example, from 2010 to 2011, Australia produced 1,433,046 tonsof plastics among which only 20% was recycled. Also, 37 percent of that plastic was for the single-use disposablepackaging. Plastics break down slowly through a combination of oxidation, photodegradation, and mechanicalabrasion. Thick plastics survive for long times even if they are subjected to direct sunlight. When plastics aresubmerged under water or in sediments, protected from UV radiation, they can survive for an even longer time.Although biodegradable plastics have been developed as a solution, it has not had a long-term effect yet. Plasticshave a lower proportion of biodegradable materials and thus microscopic plastic fragments are left behind. The existence of widespread plastics in the ocean was not observed until 1970. As a result, plastic pollution of oceanicwaters was not a matter of concern prior to that time. The production of plastics that are not biodegradable and theamount of waste have been increasing worldwide, causing increased levels of contamination and posing an escalatingthreat to the marine environment. As the ocean is downstream from almost every terrestrial location, it receives mostof the plastic waste generated on land. Every year, it receives several million tons of debris and much of this isdiscarded plastic litter. Plastic pollution has an adverse impact on our oceans and the health of wildlife. It is causing harm to the creatures thatlive in the ocean, from coral reefs to turtles gagging on straws, to whales and seabirds. These creatures may starvebecause their bellies become so jammed with bits of plastic that there’s no room for substantial food. Another recentconcern regarding plastic pollution is the impact on food webs and marine ecosystems. The concentrated toxins ofplastic materials may be delivered to animals via ingestion and transferred to their food webs. At least 26 species ofcetaceans have been documented to ingest plastic debris. This paper examines reported evidence and effects of plastic pollution in oceans and the marine environment.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2020 Virtual AIChE Annual Meeting
ISBN (Electronic)9780816911141
StatePublished - 2020
Event2020 AIChE Annual Meeting - Virtual, Online
Duration: Nov 16 2020Nov 20 2020

Publication series

NameAIChE Annual Meeting, Conference Proceedings


Conference2020 AIChE Annual Meeting
CityVirtual, Online

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Institute of Chemical Engineers. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering (all)
  • Chemistry (all)


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