Visible waste: potential for harm

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Plastics make up 9 per cent of average household waste in the UK, yet we only recycle 24 per cent of all the plastics disposed. The amount of plastic waste generated annually in the UK is estimated to be nearly five million tonnes.

For those plastics disposed of in water, many will float, making plastic debris a very visible part of our marine debris problem and one that has yet to be fully tackled.

Although plastics will degrade into microscopically small pieces, the process happens slower in water than on land, because of the dark cold conditions within the ocean. Most commonly used plastics do not mineralise, or disappear, completely but instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces.

Even truly biodegradable plastics, which will break down in compost or landfill, are not designed to degrade quickly in the ocean.

Plastic has the potential to harm fish and other wildlife. Studies have shown that fish and other marine life eat plastic, which could damage their digestive systems.

Plastic also accumulates pollutants such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) – coolant fluids which were banned worldwide in 2001 because they can be harmful to humans and marine life.