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Plastic Pollution: Impact on Humans

Info: 1219 words (5 pages) Essay
Published: 7th Jun 2021 in Environmental Studies

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Plastic Pollution has been an emerging topic in the media as of the last few years. It typically focuses on the impacts that plastic pollution has on marine wildlife, take the video of the straw in the turtle’s nose for example, but this type of exposure doesn’t always get the message across for how plastic pollution with effect everything and not just the oceans.  Plastic pollution is a much larger problem than just straws. With plastic rapidly increasing in the world’s oceans, there is a linked effect between the impacts on ocean wildlife and ecosystems and the impacts on humans.

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 Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic on land or in oceans. “Whilst approximately 10% of all solid waste is plastic (Heap 2009), up to 80% of the waste that accumulates on land, shorelines, the ocean surface, or seabed is plastic (Barnes et al. 2009).” (Wabnitz, Nichols, 2010), plastic pollution is a growing issue for the world’s oceans and will continue to cause harm is nothing is done to help or fix the issue. Plastic was originally created for convivence purposes but, “plastic production has increased from 0.5 to 260 million tonnes per year since 1950 (Heap 2009)” (Wabnitz, Nichols, 2010). Plastic is made from crude oil to make ‘nurdles’ which are small pellets of plastic, overall plastic is made up of synthetic polymers. This chemical makeup ensures that it takes hundreds of years for plastic to breakdown. These polymers, while being lightweight and sturdy, never break up but instead breakdown into microplastics. Microplastics account for roughly 80% of the plastic pollutions in oceans, these tiny plastic particles are difficult to clean up and control because of their size and abundance. Plastic production accounts for roughly 8% of the world’s oil production.  With the buoyancy of plastic causing it to float, plastic is carried around the ocean by means of the ocean gyres and accumulate into the “great garbage patch” in major ocean gyres, where the plastic will remain for centuries and accumulate chemical toxins in the process.

Plastic pollution can have both lethal and sublethal effects on marine wildlife, mainly through entanglement and ingestion. This tends to affect sea birds, sea turtles, marine mammals, and predatory fish but is not limited to those species. With the ingestion of plastic, the animal is most likely to die, while that may not be immediately making it a sublethal effect, many times plastic in the animal’s body leads them to believe they are not hungry and will eventually die of starvation or gastrointestinal tract damage. It isn’t a question of ‘if’ marine animals will ingest plastic, but ‘when’, “Exposures to plastic  debris have been clearly documented for marine organisms at all trophic levels (i.e., positions within the food chain)” (Seltenrich, 2015). No matter the position of the food chain, plastic debris has been documented to be ingested. Many times, plastic is ingested out of confusion, contamination of food source or mistaking the plastic for food. Humans may be able to tell the difference between plastic bags and jellyfish, but sea turtles cannot. It is also very common for the plastic debris to be mixed with a food source; filter feeders cannot pick out the microplastic from their food source, “large quantities of plastic pieces in the North Pacific Central Gyre (NPCG) are cause for concern as they mix with food sources for the area’s planktivorous organisms.” (Boerger, Lattin, Moore, Moore, 2010). With microplastics being so abundant in the ocean, they are very likely to get ingested by a range of species. Chemicals in the ocean are hydrophobic and will adsorb to plastics, causing exposure to toxins upon ingestion, also exposing the animal to the chemicals the plastic is made of. Marine wildlife is not just affected by plastic pollution through the food chain, but through their environment as well. Some sublethal effects include issues with mating, migration, and nesting, as well as care and survival of offspring and loss of energy.

With the great impact on marine wildlife and the effects of those impacts traveling up the food chain, these effects also reach humans and affect their seafood consumption and socioeconomics. While it is proven that toxic chemicals and plastic travels throughout the food chain, whether this affects humans is currently being researched and depends on a multitude of factors such as location, quality of seafood and abundance of seafood consumed. With microplastics being found in the gut, circulatory cells and immune system of mussels it is possible that microplastics could also be found in humans; “The implications of these findings for humans that consume organisms containing microplastics are not yet understood. Browne says his team is currently working to develop a method to test human tissues for microplastics.” (Seltenrich, 2015). Without the health implication on humans from plastic pollution, it still affects the socioeconomic climate in many nations. With an abundance of plastic in the ocean, once desirable vacation and snorkeling locations will no longer be deemed pretty and desirable. Many countries rely on this tourist income for their nation’s economy, and the lack of tourism can put many hard-working citizens out of work. The ocean is greatly impacted by plastic pollution, causing damage to ocean ecosystems which can cause many organisms to migrate to better-suited areas, and in turn, lower tourism rates to go see these animals. Plastic pollution does not only affect ocean wildlife, but the effects trickle up to humans in many ways, impacting livelihood.

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 In conclusion, plastic pollution greatly affects ocean wildlife and ecosystems as well as impacting humans. It is necessary to begin to create solutions to plastic pollution as a society, rather than continue to ignore it. The current methods are no longer helping, and it is causing damage to the earth. Once there is more research proving that the toxic chemicals and microplastic make their way up the food chain to humans, there is either going to be an uproar and negative impacts on fisheries or solutions will be created to solve this problem. There is no reason to risk damage to fisheries and people’s livelihoods, and all the reason to get ahead of plastic. There is no current or future timeline where plastic pollution in the world’s oceans doesn’t affect ocean wildlife as well as humans.


  1. Boerger, C.M., Lattin, G.L., Moore, S.L., Moore, C.J., 2010. Plastic ingestion by planktivorous fishes in the North Pacific Central Gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin 60, 2275–2278. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2010.08.007
  2. Garbage Patches, n.d., NOAA Marine Debris Program.
  3. Seltenrich, N., 2015. New Link in the Food Chain? Marine Plastic Pollution and Seafood Safety. Environmental Health Perspectives 123. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.123-a34
  4. Wabnitz, C., Nichols, W.J., 2010. Editorial: Plastic Pollution: An Ocean Emergency. Marine Turtle Newsletter 1–4.


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