Ocean Plastic: a Kids Guide

Find out lots of facts about plastic in the ocean.

Fact: Plastic rubbish doesn’t biodegrade. It can stay in the ocean for thousands of years if it isn’t recycled.

Scientists are very worried about plastic that ends up in the ocean. Plastic rubbish can be incredibly harmful to fish and other sea life. And, as they take a long time to degrade, it’s really important that plastics are recycled properly and don’t go to landfill.

Greenpeace estimate that 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean every year. That’s like an entire truck full of plastic rubbish dumped into the sea every minute!

How Long Does it Take for Plastics to Biodegrade?

The main problem with plastics is that they don’t biodegrade. Instead, plastics need sunlight to degrade (photodegrade). Most of the plastic waste in the ocean sinks, which means they don’t get the light they need to break down – causing some plastics to remain for 1,000s of years.

Here’s just how long it takes for some plastics to break down in the ocean:

Plastic bottles for water and fizzy drinks are typically made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate). They can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in the ocean.

Plastic bags are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE). They can take between 10 and 100 years to decompose.

Drinking straws, bottle caps, nappies and yoghurt pots are made from PP (polypropylene), which takes 100-500 years to decompose.

Toothbrushes and other things made from hard plastics like PA (polyamide) can take more than 500 years to decompose.

Sandwich bags using low-density polyethylene (LDPE) take up to 1,000 years to decompose

Old clothes made from polyester and acrylic create toxic microfibres in the ocean. These take 20 to 200 years to degrade in the ocean.

Why Plastics are Harmful to Ocean Life

Plastics in the ocean cause a lot of damage to sea life. Sea birds often eat these plastics, which can cause them serious harm or even kill them. Here’s a video from Blue Planet which shows what plastic pollution can do:

Are you interested in recycling? Click on our Recycling for Kids page.


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