Today, an average person living in Western Europe or North America disposes of 100 kilograms of plastic each year, mostly in the form of packaging. Asia disposes just 20 kilograms per person, but this figure is expected to grow rapidly as economies in the region expand. In Europe, 26 percent, or 6.6 million tons, of the post-consumer plastic produced in 2012 was recycled, while 36 percent was incinerated for energy generation. In the United States, only 9 percent of post-consumer plastic (2.8 million tons) was recycled in 2012.
Approximately 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year from runoff and ocean dumping. A recent study conservatively estimated that 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing a total of 268,940 tons are currently floating in the world’s oceans.
Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine animals, and their young including sea turtles and the black-footed albatross. Midway Atoll (an island in the Pacific) receives substantial amounts of marine debris from the patch. Of the 1.5 million Laysan albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are likely to have plastic in their digestive system. Approximately one-third of their chicks die, and many of those deaths are due to being fed plastic from their parents.
(Photo by Chris Jordan)
Besides the particles' danger to wildlife, on the microscopic level the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs. These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by fish. In a recent study, around one in four fish at markets in California and Indonesia had plastic particles in their guts. Many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals. PCB’s have been specifically linked to numerous health issues in humans.
In the most polluted places in the ocean, the mass of plastic exceeds the amount of plankton six times over. Not only do the toxins in plastic effect the ocean, but acting like sponges, they soak up other toxins from outside sources before entering the ocean. As these chemicals are ingested by animals in the ocean, they affect the health of people who depend on fish as their main source of protein. In 2013, fish provided 3.1 billion people with almost 20% of their intake of animal protein.
This Virtual Reality experience focuses on the problem of plastic pollution and its effect on marine, bird and human life.The participant views plastic pollution, its origins and affected regions, from the perspective of a bird, with voice-over narration that explains the problem, its impact and what they can do to help solve it.