Plastic Waste in the Ocean

A Toraphene Guide


Only 4% of plastic is recycled. The rest is incinerated or ends up as pollution whether on land or in the ocean.


If we continue to pollute at this rate, plastic pollution in the ocean wil reach 600 million tonnes by 2040.


You can fight plastic pollution by reducing your singe-use plastic use, and participating in a clean up.

Plastic pollution in the ocean is a dire an growing problem. Millions of tonnes of plastic waste make their way into the ocean every year, posing a significant threat to marine ecosystems and biodiversity. This guide explores how this happens, the transformation of plastics into microplastics, and the harm they cause to marine life.

How plastic enters the ocean

The ocean's plastic problem begins with casual littering, as discarded items are carried by wind and rain into waterways. This is compounded by industrial waste, with some industries illegally dumping plastic directly into the sea. Further exacerbating this, inefficient waste management systems can result in palstic leakage into the environment, while maritime activities like fishing and boating may inadvertantly contribute plastic waste at sea.

Breakdown into microplastics

Once in the ocean, plastic waste doesn't biodegrade like organic materials. Instead, it photodegrades under the sun's UV radiation, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces over time. These tiny fragments, less than 5mm in size, are known as microplastics. They are nearly impossible to remove from the environment due to their miniscule size.


Microplastics can come from products with tiny microplastic beads such as some exfoliating cosmetics, but the vast majority come from the breakdown of larger plastics by abrasion and photodegradation.

The impact on marine life

Microplastics present a serious danger to marine life. Sea creatures often ingest these tiny particles mistaking them for food. This can cause internal injuries or blockages, leading to malnutrition, stunted growth or even death. Furthermore, microplastics act as sponges for harmful pollutants, absorbing them from the surrounding water. When ingested, these toxins can release into the animal, potentially causing health problems. Microplastics can also travel up the foodchain. Smaller, microplastic-consuming creatures are eaten by larger predators, leading to an accumulation and intensification of pollutants across the ecosystem.

1. Fish

Over 67% (more than 2/3) of fish in the ocean have ingested microplastics. Ingesting of plastics can cause intenstinal injury and death in fish. Fish at the top of the foodchain ingest the most plastic by consuming all the plastic already present in the smaller fish.

2. Mollusks

Even small filter-feeders like mollusks and clams consume plastic. These shelled creatures ingest microplastic while seeking phytoplankton and diatoms and cannot filter out and thereby avoid plastic particles. One recent study found 100% of mussels tested contained microplastic particles.

3. Turtles

Turtles have been somewhat of the public face of marine plastic pollution. When a video clip of a sea turtle with a plastic straw in its nose went viral, plastic straws were quickly banned in favour of paper and compostable options. Turtles can become entangled in plastic, get it stuck in their noses or mouths, and even eat plastic. Studies have shown that turtles ingesting just 14 pieces of plastic have an increased risk of death.

4. Birds

It has been found that 90% of seabirds have ingested microplastic, and it is projected that by 2050, 99% will be ingesting plastic. Plastic enters seabirds via the water they drink, and the fish they eat. This plastic consumption can often lead to death, with current estimates being that 1 million seabirds die every year specifically from plastic ingestion.

5. Marine Animals

Sea mammals (e.g. sea lions, seals, whales) are also harmed by plastic pollution. These animals, some already on the verge of extinction often become entangled in plastic or ingest large quantities of plastic, leading to death. An estimated 100 marine animals die from plastic pollution every year.

How to fight plastic pollution

Thankfully, there are things we can do. The most effective is to reduce the amount of plastic that enters our oceans by reducing the amount of plastic you use and throw away.


Avoid littering in nature, and to go the extra mile, you could participate in a beach clean up.