We eat 2000 small pieces of plastic every week. Millions...

Every year, about half a kilo of plastic ends up in your stomach. We drink and eat microscopic pieces of plastic every single day. It is unclear how dangerous it is. But it’s not healthy.

Oct. 2020 22:16

Last updated just now

Briefly explained

Plastic is a fantastic material. Doctors save hundreds of thousands of lives with equipment made of plastic. Plastic has sealed our sewer systems and houses.

A lot of plastic goes astray: Only 9 percent of all plastic produced through the ages is recycled, and 12 percent is burned. The rest have ended up on landfills and in nature.

Plastic in the sea is now considered one of the world’s biggest environmental problems. Millions of birds, fish, whales and sea turtles die because they ingest plastic.

A dead seabird on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean is full of small pieces of plastic. The plastic both suffocates and gives the birds a false feeling of satiety. Foto: Caleb Jones / AP / NTB

– Why do between 8 and 12 million tonnes of plastic end up in the sea every year – equivalent to the weight of 100 large passenger planes?

The consumption and production of plastic has exploded. The world now uses more than 350 million tonnes of plastic a year. That is 250 times as much as in 1950, and consumption is increasing sharply every single year. High consumption means a lot of rubbish.

36 percent of the plastic packaging collected in Norway is recycled into new plastic products. In many countries there are poor waste management systems, and people throw plastic in nature. Very much of the plastic rubbish ends up in streams and rivers and is transported to the sea. Much of the plastic waste in Europe and the United States is sold to countries in Asia. Much of this ends up in the sea during transport.

A sea otter suffocated in plastic ropes with which it has built a nest in the bird mountain. Plastic rubbish along the coast is a major threat to wildlife in Norway as well. Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB

– Why is it so dramatic that more and more plastic ends up in the sea?

Plastic is made to be solid and last a long time. It can take hundreds of years before nature breaks down plastic. It has been calculated that in 2050, ie in just 30 years, the weight of all plastic in the sea will be higher than all sea fish. A plastic bottle in the ocean will gradually break down due to the sun’s UV rays and mechanical wear. When the pieces have become small enough, the ocean’s microorganisms will break the plastic down into carbon and water. But this process can take 450 years.

Plastic waste in the sea has become a new major threat to many animal species. The animals are already struggling with environmental toxins, humans destroying their habitats, overfishing and climate change. Plastic is now one of the biggest threats to both marine mammals, seabirds and fish. Researchers claim that nine out of ten seabirds have pieces of plastic in their stomachs. Plastic gives the animals constipation, a false feeling of satiety and microplastic ends up in animals and human blood and body tissues.

A young boy is looking for plastic he can sell in the river at Mandaluyong in the Philippines. The rest remains and floats out to sea. Foto: Cheryl Ravelo / Reuters / NTB

– How much plastic is there in the sea now?

Exact figures do not exist, of course, but it is estimated that close to 300 million tonnes float around in the sea. 15 percent of the plastic floats around in the ocean. In several places, the ocean currents collect the plastic in huge slush islands.

About 15 percent of the plastic is washed ashore and left on beaches, while as much as 70 percent of the plastic sinks at sea or drifts around the world’s oceans with the currents. At the great ocean depths there is no sunlight and little oxygen and the decomposition takes place very slowly.

– Why is plastic a growing climate problem?

Almost all plastics are made from oil. Only a little is made of cellulose from trees. Both production and incineration of plastic therefore lead to large CO2 emissions – just like when oil is burned as petrol. In 2014, about one percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions came from plastic. But because the use and production of plastics is increasing sharply, it is estimated that plastics will account for 20 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions in 30 years.

Organizations and inventors around the world are working with technology to collect the plastic that floats around in the ocean. Foto: The Ocean Cleanup / AP / NTB

– What is being done to reduce plastic waste?

Several large projects are underway to collect the plastic that floats around in the sea. Beach clean-ups are carried out in many countries. Last year, despite opposition from the administration, a global agreement was reached to regulate the trade in plastic waste. This industry is huge, with a turnover of five billion dollars a year. Much of the trade is illegal, but from December this year it is forbidden to export and import plastic waste without a license.

Source sorting is being introduced in more and more countries, because more plastic can be used again. In this year’s TV campaign, WWF and NRK are collaborating to raise money to be used to reduce plastic waste.

– Why are 32 municipalities boycotting this year’s TV campaign?

Several of the municipalities justify the boycott on the grounds that they disagree with WWF’s predator policy. WWF wants the populations of wolves, bears, wolverines and lynx to be increased in Norway. The municipalities strongly disagree with this, and will therefore not support WWF’s work against plastic waste in the sea.

A girl walks on a littered beach in the port city of Tema outside Accra in Ghana. Poor fish management and enormous litter in the sea and on land, mainly made of plastic, means that fishermen are forced to take longer breaks from fishing. Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB

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– Should money from this year’s TV campaign be spent on predator measures in Norway or other countries?

No. Everything collected in NRK and WWF’s TV campaign will be used to reduce plastic pollution in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand. A quarter of all plastic that ends up in the world’s oceans comes from these countries because waste collection works very poorly.

– The money will improve the waste system for 900,000 people, and the goal is for their plastic emissions to rivers and seas to be reduced by 7,000 tonnes a year. 80 percent of all plastic that ends up in the sea comes from land. Therefore, good waste management is a key to solving the problem. 15 tonnes of plastic now end up in the sea every minute.

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