Study Reveals Two Biggest, Deadliest Kinds of Marine Trash


Photo credit: epSos.de via Flickr/CC BY

A new study done by the United Nations Environment Program has revealed some pretty frightening stuff: just two kinds of trash make up more than half the marine debris in the world. One is predictable enough--we're all well aware of the horror stories involving sea life choking on plastics. So it's no surprise that plastic is one of the two deadly debris in the world's seas. The other, however, may come as more of a shock.The second most abundant kind of marine litter is cigarette related debris: butts and packing account for nearly half of all sea trash in some parts of the world.
According to Bloomberg, "About 40 percent of the litter in the Mediterranean Sea is smoking-related from butts and wrapping, the UN agency said . . . In Ecuador, smoking-related refuse accounted for more than half of coastal garbage."

And it all contributes to one of the most severe threats facing marine ecosystems today:

Ocean debris worldwide kills at least 1 million sea birds and 100,000 mammals each year, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has estimated. The litter is most severe in the east Asian seas region, which includes countries such as China with a population 1.3 billion people and where, according to UN figures, almost 60 percent of men smoke.

And this right after a recent study found that cigarette butts poison fish--adds insult to injury, doesn't it?

The general prognosis of the report? In a word; grim. The flow of trash from these two sources only stands to get worse, and progress in litter reduction efforts has been middling. In fact, the only takeaway conclusion from the study is more of a desperate plea than a politically realistic suggestion: ban single-use plastic bags.

Plastic bags made up more than 9 percent of the 103 million items of rubbish collected by volunteers for the International Coastal Cleanup from 1989 to 2007, the study said. Only cigarettes and their filters constituted a bigger proportion of waste. "Thin film, single-use plastic bags which choke marine life should be banned or phased-out rapidly everywhere," [program director Achim] Steiner said. "There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere."

Of course, he's right--now we've just got to see about getting that to happen.

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Tags: Animals | Plastic Bags | Plastics | Waste