A new report issued this week from the UN calls into question traditional wisdom about how plastics biodegrade in the ocean. Scientists used to believe that certain plastics that were marketed as biodegradable would break down more easily and could reduce the amount of plastics collecting in oceans around the world. Biodegradable plastic is used mostly for plastic bottles and plastic bags.
But the UN’s report shows the opposite. Instead the study shows that these plastics are “extremely slow” to break down in the ocean because the plastic degrades at different rates, depending on the environment. The scientists who authored the report says that “Although biodegradable plastics were specifically designed to “be more susceptible to degradation, they won’t solve the problem of litter in oceans because most plastic is extremely durable.”
That’s significant because, according to National Geographic, there is currently a “trash vortex” floating in the ocean between the United States and Japan, and this “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is made up largely with discarded plastic bags and bottles. In 2014 alone, 311 million tons of plastic was produced across the world.
“It’s a shame that plastic is wreaking so much havoc on the environment,” says a spokesman from a company that sells reusable shopping bags. “Especially since the solution is so simple. All we have to do to prevent more plastic from gathering in the ocean is use shopping bags that aren’t made of plastic.”
And he’s right. According to recent studies, the average family uses and discards about 1,500 plastic bags each year. In 2015, there were almost 125 million households in the nation. “The implications are enormous,” says the spokesman. “Imagine how much pollution could be prevented from the simple act of carrying a reusable shopping bag.”
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