Ships as one of the main sources of plastic waste


Plastic garbage pollutes the environment, decomposes for hundreds of years, causing serious damage to flora and fauna. Birds, fishes and other animals often become victims of waste, taking fragments of plastic for food or getting entangled in them. Most often, waste is thrown into the ocean from land, but in a recent study, that published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authors described a less obvious source of ocean pollution.

Now 40% of the total volume of all plastic products is produced for one-time use. Various packages of goods that are thrown away almost immediately, soda bottles, disposable tableware and more. The rapid growth in the production of plastic products has outstripped the current opportunities for mankind to utilize them. This is especially true for Asian countries with a growing economy, where the growth in plastic production has reached unprecedented proportions, but the current technologies and systems for organizing the collection and disposal of garbage are not sufficiently developed or are completely absent.

Ships as one of the main sources of plastic waste

According to the study, we should thank our Asian friends from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for their significant contribution to the supply of plastic waste to the world’s oceans (forgive us for this irony). After all, it was precisely half of all the plastic washed into the ocean that was there thanks to these countries. While the European part of the world is actively struggling with plastic, introducing new laws, restricting production, developing new ways of collecting and eliminating waste, the Asian part is doing the opposite.

Let’s back to the details of the study. The authors visited the tiny island of Henderson, located in the middle between Argentina and South Africa. For the third time, thousands of pieces of plastic waste have been collected on this island: the first time in 1984, then in 2009, and again in 2018.

Ships as one of the main sources of plastic waste

Back in 1984, the results of garbage collection showed that almost all waste markings indicated South America, located about 3 thousand kilometers west of the island. However, the last fence made in 2018 showed that at least three quarters of the garbage came mainly from China.

However, this does not mean that the garbage itself sailed from the distant shores of China. The researchers found that most of the plastic bottles had tightly screwed caps, which is usually accepted on board ships. Through simple logical reasoning, it is easy to guess that it is the Chinese trading and fishing vessels, whose number in the Pacific Ocean has increased significantly in recent years, are the main sources of plastic waste.

One of the most underestimated causes of ocean pollution is the fishing industry: half of the large Pacific garbage spot consists of fishing nets, ropes, crates, floats, barrels and other things that are somehow connected with fishing vessels. Fishermen, throwing waste overboard, most often do not understand that they later catch the very fish that most likely consumed previously thrown garbage.

Ships as one of the main sources of plastic waste

Instead of storing the garbage on board the ships, and disposing of them to land, the crews prefer to simply throw them overboard. It would seem that there is so much garbage? But if you recall the size of the Chinese merchant fleet (total deadweight of 65 million tons), then it is easy to imagine the amount of waste that falls into the ocean daily.