Ocean of Trash: Your Guide to Plastic Pollution – OZY

Know your waste

Nothing cuddly about this PET

Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is one of the most abundant forms of plastic waste heading to the sea. Think bottles soda or water, plastic jars, or even that bottle of ketchup sitting on the breakfast counter. All of these containers are made from PET, a thermoplastic, which means it melts when heated and can therefore be easily recycled.

PET’s insidious sidekick

If PET is an ocean villain, polypropylene (PP) is often its sidekick. The caps of PET bottles are usually made of PP plastic. Or, you can drink soda from a PET bottle using a single-use PP plastic straw. PP is also a thermoplastic, although it is not as easily recyclable as PET. Drinking straws are virtually non-recyclable. Moreover, they can easily disintegrate over time into tiny fragments called microplastics and nanoplastics, making them much harder to recover from the environment.

Watch out for nylon

Widely used to make fishing gear such as nets and lines, scrap nylon can persist in the environment for centuries. Like PP, it is also known to break down into micro and nanoplastics. Consumed by unsuspecting marine animals, it can find an easy entry into the food chain, leading all the way to humans. A study says you can ingest up to five grams (0.17 ounces or the weight of a credit card) of micro and nanoplastics each week.

The ups and downs of PE

High density polyethylene or HDPE plastic, is commonly used to package consumer goods. Milk jugs, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, and cosmetic containers are common examples of everyday products packaged with HDPE. Low-density polyethylene, or LDPE, is used to make items such as garbage bags or single-use grocery bags. HDPE can be effectively recycled, but processing LDPE waste is expensive and can present significant challenges. This means that LDPE is often at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to collecting plastic for recycling.

perilous pvc

Considered a household favorite for being both inexpensive and durable, PVC is used for items made to last such as shower curtains, pipes, tubes, toys, serving trays, chairs and tables. However, it is not biodegradable and is extremely hazardous to recycle. Any PVC released into the sea will eventually break down into microplastics over time and remain suspended in the environment in perpetuity.

Where is this all going?

Ocean trash patches

Gargantuan, open-air vats of floating trash, known as trash patches, typically form in the middle of open oceans, at the vortex of swirling water currents called gyres. Similar to a whirlpool, these rotational forces suck in floating debris brought in by currents from distant landmasses. This process results in the accumulation of thousands of tons of marine plastic litter in a concentrated area. There are up to five patches of ocean trash around the world, the most infamous being the Great Pacific Trash Patch. Twice the size of Texas, it is located in the North Pacific, between California and Hawaii.


Countless beaches, lagoons, marshes and coastal wetlands around the world are cluttered with plastic litter, and many regions are experiencing a seasonal increase in litter. Some overvoltages coincide with the rainy season in various locations, as inland rivers and their tributaries come to life and wash away the volumes of plastic waste that has accumulated in city sewer systems over the previous months. Trash blooms, on the other hand, are triggered by a change in wind patterns. Pushed inshore by strong winds, debris floating freely in the sea is deposited on beaches and coastal areas by the rising tide.

Floating “ghost nets”

Also known as derelict fishing gear, or DFG, ghost nets refer to a deadly jumble of fishing gear – including lines, floats and nets – that have been lost or discarded by boats sea ​​fishing. These floating traps entangle large numbers of fish, turtles, sea animals and sometimes even birds, often heaping up so much weight that they sink to the bottom of the ocean with their loot. Once the carcasses of dead creatures decompose or are eaten by predators, the nets regain their buoyancy and rise to the surface. What follows is a trap, drown and kill cycle. Worldwide, it is estimated that some 600,000 tonnes of ghost nets enter the ocean every year.


Finding a Solution: Cleaning Innovations

Waste collection companies

The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch non-profit organization, has developed a technology able to skim thousands of tons of plastic wreckage from the surface of the ocean and trapping plastic waste in river channels before it reaches the sea. Meanwhile, the non-profit organization based in Switzerland, the Jan & Oscar Foundation has partnered with unemployed coastal workers communities in Thailand during the pandemic to collect recyclable plastic waste from the sea. Some families have collected more than a ton in a single month. The plastics were then purchased by local recyclers at a fair price, providing communities with a source of income during a time of economic uncertainty.

Offset your plastics with a “plastic credit?”

Business entities can attempt to offset their use of plastics by funding efforts to remove existing plastic waste from the environment. A so-called “plastic credit” is earned for every ton of plastic waste a company helps recover; the central idea is to direct corporate funds to subsidize the operational costs of collecting marine plastic, making it a viable economic venture for communities of collectors. second lifea project based in Thailand, acts as an intermediary between corporate donors, communities of plastic aggregators and regional recyclers in Southeast Asia, throughout the plastic credit system.

Towards a circular economy

Circular business models aim to put recycled materials back into the human consumption chain in the form of recycled products that would otherwise require virgin materials to produce. However, the amount of recycled materials used in the manufacture of these products is sometimes overestimated; some companies engage in greenwashing, meaning they spend more resources selling themselves as green than minimizing harmful practices. Yet some companies are making a difference. Swiss company Tide Ocean SAfor example, produces a patented raw material made entirely of recycled marine plastic waste, which is then used by partner companies to make consumer products ranging from coffee mugs to designer swimwear.

Community corner

What strategies, if any, do you use to reduce your personal waste footprint?

Share your thoughts with us at OzyCommunity@Ozy.com.


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