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How the heck does plastic end up in the ocean? And how does it affect your health?

November 1, 2017

It’s no secret that the world is facing a huge plastic problem – and we are not talking about that p surgery. Plastic is made of a material that is meant to last forever, yet we tend to through away bottles, straws, and plates after using them only once. What’s alarming is that huge amounts of it end up in the ocean. It’s not sexy to surf or swim among used plastic bottles, fishnets, and bags. Once you start paying attention to plastic, you see it absolutely everywhere. It’s wrapped around food and drinks, it’s part of the material of your clothes, shoes, headphones, sports watches and bags, it’s in your makeup, toothbrushes, shampoo, and the list goes on. Luckily, it is possible to turn this trend, and a lot of people are already leading the way with zero-waste movements, beach clean-ups, and making really cool sustainable brands.

Why should we care about plastic?

Even though plastic has been hugely practical in many ways due to its eternal lifespan, it has become a major environmental issue for the same reason. According to UNEP, every square kilometer of the world’s oceans has 63,320 microplastic particles floating around (1). Toxic chemicals from plastic leach out, and by now almost all people have traces of plastic in their blood (2).

MICROPLASTICS: Plastic particles with the size ranging from 1 nanometer to 5 millimeter (3). When plastic enters the ocean it breaks down due to external forces, for example, water. This in turn makes it harder to see and easier to forget.

Some of the main problems with plastic occur because it never breaks down entirely. The most important issues are:

  1. Fish and other sea animals eat plastic, which in turn can lead to hormonal, reproductive and digestive problems.
  2. Humans are indirectly consuming plastic through eating seafood and fish, which in turn can cause the same problems for humans as for the fish and sea animals at high enough concentrations (4).
  3. Humans are also directly exposed to plastic though plastic bottles, food packaging and chemical additives in cosmetics such as BPA, phthalates, and DEHP which are known to interfere with the human hormonal function (5).
  4. Animals are eating and getting stuck in the plastic litter, fishing line nets, plastic bags, balloons, and straps. Research shows that more than 100 million marine mammals are killed each year due to plastic in the oceans (6).

How does plastic end up on the beaches and in the oceans?

About 80% of the plastics come from land-based activities (7) (meaning not from boats and ships). Lots of items have drifted off land from the streets, garbage cans, and landfills and into rivers or directly to the ocean. Ships also lose some cargo when they are out in the sea, or caught in a storm. Ocean currents bring the items far from where they originate.

Further, small plastic particles enter the ocean through the drains. Some examples of are microbeads in most kinds of toothpaste, dishwashing powders and synthetic clothing fibers that shed in washing machines (8).

What can we do about it?

The problem and the solution to this start on land. Not only are big manufacturing companies responsible, but every single consumer has the power to change this trend through what we chose to buy and consume. Here are some tips:

Five things you can do today

  1. Avoid single-use plastic bottles and buy a BPA-free bottle
  2. Change your tooth-brush from plastic to bamboo
  3. Bring your own bags to the grocery store
  4. #stopsucking on plastic straws
  5. Bring your own cup or box when you are getting take away food or coffee

Five things that need some planning

  1. Choose natural toothpaste and cleaning products
  2. Recycle as much as you can
  3. Try to repair what you already have instead of buying new things
  4. Support environmental friendly clothing brands (such as HallaxHalla)
  5. Check out eco-friendly makeup brands made without chemicals

Photo: @vanhamies

Are you interested in learning more? Check out:



We also highly recommend the Netflix Documentary “A Plastic Ocean”.

Big eco-friendly high five!

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