The consumption of plastic bottles has skyrocketed over the last decade. About 480 billion were sold worldwide in 2016. This compares to about 300 billion just ten years before. To put it into perspective, if one were to stack 480 billion bottles, the plastic tower would reach almost half way to the Sun.
Right now, factories produce an average of 20,000 bottles every second of every day. Tonnes of discarded plastic enter the world’s oceans all the time, ultimately entering the food chain through birds and fish.
Plastic bottles have been found in every corner of the oceans, including the Arctic and remote, uninhibited islands. The world’s fatal love affair with plastic is now threatening to become a harmful environmental issue not far into the future, as consumption rates far outstrips recycling.
Experts are warning that plastic pollution will soon become as harmful as climate change, unless drastic measures are taken.
Henderson Island is a tiny landmass in the middle of eastern South Pacific.
It is uninhabited, merely a rock in the ocean, a coral atoll far away from any populated areas.
Yet, a recent expedition found that Henderson Island has been turned into a sort of ocean dump covered in almost 18 tons of plastic waste.
Scientist believe that no less than 38m individual pieces of plastic litter every corner of the island. A large percentage of this amount is buried in the subsoil.
Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Island group. It is also listed as a Unesco World Heritage Listed site, and due to its remoteness, it was believed that the ecosystem would remain mostly untouched by human activity.
Despite this, the sight was one far removed from an idyllic paradise island with long, sandy beaches and azure waters.
The level of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has been steadily rising over the last decade, and the recent discovery at Henderson Island is only a sign that it’s getting worse.
Depending on its composition, plastic material can take up to 1,000 years to completely degrade. Thus, most of the plastic ever made is still present on the planet, and will be around after many generations have come and gone.
There are environmental concerns that plastic pollution will soon reach intolerable levels, and places prior considered ‘safe’ from human activity may not be so, after all. Last February, underwater research found staggering levels of pollution in the 10km-deep Mariana Trench, for instance.