Dissing the Planet

Microscopic bits of plastic have sifted, unseen, throughout the marine environment. The plastic not only litters the beach, it is—like fine bits of sand—becoming the beach.
• Ocean Litter Gives Alien Species an Easy Ride
U.K. researchers in Plymouth and Southampton, England, found that microscopic fragments of nylon, polyester, and seven other types of plastic are widespread in sediments around British shores. Beyond plastic-enriched shorelines, plastic particles are now common in the high seas. “Estimates for the longevity of plastic range from a hundred to a thousand years,We’ve only been mass producing plastics for 40 years, their longevity cannot be fully estimated.
The impact of larger plastic flotsam on marine wildlife is well documented. According to the U.K.’s Marine Conservation Society, a national environmental nonprofit, more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals and sea turtles die globally each year from entanglement in, or ingestion of, plastics.
Waterlogged plastic bags look like jellyfish to feeding turtles. Seabirds mistake raw plastic pellets spilled from container ships for fish eggs. Plastic sheeting has even been found in the stomachs of dolphins and whales.
While most plastics are non-biodegradable, the action of waves and the elements work to break plastic objects down into fragments tiny enough to be ingested by countless other marine organisms.
Many plastics contain toxic chemicals, including biocides (to prevent organisms colonizing their surfaces), colourings, and flexibility-enhancing agents known as plasticizers. These substances could be released if the plastics were eaten.
When plastics are floating in the seas, they will accumulate and absorb toxic chemicals that are present from other sources. These are hydrophobic chemicals that hate to be in water and cling to plastic as an alternative. These chemicals may then be transported to organisms that eat the plastic.
Such toxic chemicals include PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDE (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene), which are derived from pesticides and other manmade substances. These agents are known endocrine disruptors—chemicals that interfere with the reproductive, developmental, and immune systems of animals.
Endocrine disruptors have been linked to the masculization of female polar bears, egg development in male flatfish, and spontaneous abortions and declines in seal populations. Researchers in Long Beach, California, found that the mass of plastic fragments in parts of the central Pacific Ocean is six times greater than that of resident plankton.
Beach-goers are the biggest polluters, contributing 36.7 percent of litter found. Plastic items make up more than half of the total trash recovered. This included 5,831 plastic bags—the equivalent of 43 bags for each kilometer (0.6 mile) of coastline surveyed. The Marine Conservation Society,point out that every single piece of rubbish has an owner. And every single person can make a difference by making sure they take their rubbish with them when they leave the beach.