This story is part of a series on ocean plastics.
The oceans are teeming with plastic trash: shopping bags, water bottles, old toothbrushes, and much more. By 2020, there will be more plastic than fish in marine waters.
Over time, this debris begins to break into near-microscopic particles. There may be 51 trillion tiny plastic pieces scattered across the world’s oceans ― 500 times more than there are stars in the galaxy. Fish, unable to discern what’s plastic and what’s food, are eating this stuff. And humans, ever ravenous, eat fish ― lots of them.
One in four fish has plastic in its gut, according a recent study. Plastic particles have also been found in oysters and mussels. If you eat a lot of shellfish, for example, you might be consuming 11,000 pieces of plastic a year. The health effects of this are unknown.
To see how this cycle plays out, take a look through the storybook below:
Sources: NOAA(1)(2), NRDC, Columbia Earth Institute, EPA, Seeker, PLOS ONE, UN, University of California, NCBI, The Guardian.