Tackling Plastic Pollution at its Biggest Contributors

by Jessica Isaac

Photo by Lucien Wanda on Pexels

5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are in our oceans. That’s 46,000 pieces every square mile [1]. It seems as though we are bombarded with statistics about the plethora of plastic polluting our oceans. But why exactly is it harmful? And what can be done about it?

How does the plastic we use end up in the ocean? 

There are several ways that plastic enters the ocean; often, plastic is put in the bin instead of being recycled. Whilst being transported to landfill, it is common for plastic to blow all the way to the ocean [2].

Similarly, litter is also swept up by the wind and carried into the ocean. Another way that might seem less obvious is plastics being discarded through our water systems. Things like wet wipes, sanitary products and even microplastics, like fine beads in exfoliators and cleansers, find their way into the ocean [2].

The harm to the ocean and earth

Each year, hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals become tangled in plastic waste in the ocean [3]. The most common culprits are things like fishing nets and carrier bags. 

As well as this, sea life often ingest pieces of plastic that look similar to their prey. This can cause organ damage or fatal intestinal blockages. Moreover, animals as small as polyps have been found to regularly consume microplastics as they look similar to zooplankton [3]. 

Unfortunately, this abundance of plastic in the ocean is a problem that is not going away anytime soon. It is estimated that a simple plastic bottle takes around 450 years to decompose! Even rubbish that is usually recyclable, such as tin cans, can take around 200 years to break down if not disposed of properly [4].

What can be done about this? 

It can seem futile to hear about so much plastic pollution and not know what to do to help. In 2019, it was recorded that nearly 900,000 tonnes of plastic were put onto shelves in UK supermarkets, which far exceeds the amount recorded in 2017 [5].

It is obvious that supermarkets are a huge contributor to the plastic pollution in the ocean. A great way to tackle the overuse of single-use plastic in large businesses such as supermarkets is to write to higher ups, and express all the great reasons as to why plastics should be used less in the products they sell. 

Although it is fantastic if you choose to go plastic-free, a supermarket chain can have an even greater impact when it reduces its use of plastic. 

In addition to the environmental reasons discussed above, there are some ways that using less plastic is actually a good business strategy. For example, it can decrease waste disposal costs or help set the business apart from others by demonstrating leadership in sustainability. This also helps to attract more eco-friendly customers and staff [6].

In your own workplace, there are ways to reduce the use of plastic. Encouraging coworkers to participate in plastic-free July may help them realise that it is much easier than they may have thought, and they may consider incorporating sustainable practices into their day to day life [7]. 

Lastly, you can sign and make your own petitions to encourage supermarkets and other businesses to reduce the amount of plastic they use. You would be surprised at the reach you can have by posting these petitions on social media. 


[1] Condor Ferries. 2022. 100+ Plastic in the Ocean Statistics & Facts (2020-2021). [online] Available at: <https://www.condorferries.co.uk/plastic-in-the-ocean-statistics#:~:text=There%20is%20now%205.25%20trillion,weighing%20up%20to%20269%2C000%20tonnes.> [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[2]WWF. 2022. How does plastic end up in the ocean?. [online] Available at: <https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/how-does-plastic-end-ocean#:~:text=Once%20the%20plastic%20is%20in,the%20ocean%20originates%20on%20land> [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[3]Bryce, E., 2022. How does plastic pollution affect the ocean? | China Dialogue Ocean. [online] China Dialogue Ocean. Available at: <https://chinadialogueocean.net/en/pollution/14200-how-does-plastic-pollution-affect-the-ocean/> [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[4]World Economic Forum. 2022. This is how long everyday plastic items last in the ocean. [online] Available at: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/11/chart-of-the-day-this-is-how-long-everyday-plastic-items-last-in-the-ocean/> [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[5]the Guardian. 2022. UK supermarkets not doing enough to cut plastic use, says report. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/26/uk-supermarkets-not-doing-enough-to-cut-plastic-use-says-report> [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[6]Less Plastic. 2022. For Businesses – Less Plastic. [online] Available at: <https://www.lessplastic.org.uk/for-businesses/> [Accessed 29 July 2022].
[7]safestore. 2022. 7 ways businesses can reduce the amount of plastic they use. [online] Available at: <https://www.safestore.co.uk/blog/2019/07/7-ways-businesses-can-reduce-the-amount-of-plastic-they-use/> [Accessed 29 July 2022].

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