This is how long everyday plastic items last in the ocean
Depending on how thirsty you are, it might take you less than five minutes to swig back the contents of a plastic bottle. But it takes the ocean 450 years to break down the plastic.
This is the estimate from the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Woods Hole Sea Grant, which compiled data showing the length of time for man-made marine debris to biodegrade in the sea.
As the chart below shows, fishing line is the worst offender, taking up to 600 years to biodegrade, while disposable diapers will take as long as plastic bottles – 450 years – to break down.
Plastic shopping bags will take up to 20 years to break down, while styrofoam takeaway coffee cups take 50 years, and cigarette butts take 10.
Marine debris is classed by the NOAA as “any man-made object discarded, disposed of or abandoned that enters the coastal or marine environment”.
Every year, around eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean – and it’s thought that, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight).
Once there, the debris can kill marine life. Earlier this year, a pilot whale that died off the coast of southern Thailand was found to have swallowed 80 plastic bags.
When plastic does eventually break down into smaller particles called “microplastics”, these can be eaten by fish – and end up in food eaten by humans.
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