Plastic Pollution

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags each year, which takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce. In addition, less than 40% of plastic products are recycled in the USA, and less than 5% of plastics are recycled worldwide. Beaches throughout the world are strewn with plastic and about 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile are floating throughout the ocean.

80% of the garbage found in oceans originate from inland and 20% comes from boats. Plastics collect in gyres and slowly break down into microparticles that can no longer be separated from the phytoplankton around them.

Plastic is petroleum-based and never completely disappears, but instead breaks down into smaller pieces that are consumed by marine life. The North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest ocean garbage site in the world.

The floating mass of plastic is larger than the land mass of the United States with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life 6 to 1. These floating garbage sites are impossible to clean up given the rate that they are being produced.
Plastic pollution has devastating effects on millions of animals each year.
  • Turtles mistake floating plastic bags for their primary food, jellyfish, which leads to digestive blockages and eventual death.
  • Whales consume plastic particles that are intermixed with plankton.
  • Researchers working in the North Pacific Gyre have estimated that for every 2.2 lbs of plankton, there is 13.2 lbs of plastic.
  • Marine birds feed their babies bottle caps and other small plastic particles, filling their stomachs while depriving them of nutrients, leading to premature death.

  • Common marine debris items that are dangerous to wildlife include: cigarette butts, plastic toys, bags and bottles, styrofoam, balloons, lighters and discarded fishing gear such as lines, nets and buoys.

    Toxins from plastics bioaccumulate in the seafood we consume, leading to tissue damage, reproduction issues, and numerous unknown implications. Toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), and mercury are consumed by fish via plastic particles, adversely affecting human health in a variety of ways. Direct links have been found between plastic toxicity and cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues. Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is found in many water bottles and food packaging materials is harmful to human health.

    BPA breaks down into polymer chains, which makes it more readily available to enter the human body in a variety of ways, namely through contaminated water and seafood consumption. BPA has been directly linked to interference with human hormones, leading to significant alterations in endocrine functionality.

    LA-based artist Claudio Garzón is an ocean advocate working to inspire students and the public to conserve our changing oceans. His plastic ocean debris sculptures offer a different way to represent and convey this global crisis. His work exemplifies visionary creativity and exciting solution oriented design to encourage environmental awareness.

    Courtney Mattison is an artist and ocean advocate working to inspire policy makers and the public to conserve our changing seas. Mattison has worked in and studied marine conservation ecology and ceramic sculpture simultaneously for over ten years. She has completed a two large-scale “Our Changing Seas” sculptures installations that showcase the complexity and importance of coral reef systems.

    Lee Lee has developed a practice of figurative painting which integrates new materials, such as plastic, as well as nontraditional processes to cultivate rich textures that become inherent to the meaning of the work. Her work has been informed by extensive time abroad, reflecting the placement of particular communities within global contexts in a way that demonstrates how we are directly tied to each other. Plastics are integrated both literally and figuratively into her paintings to explore the consequences of the imposing nature of post-industrialization in this Chemical Age.
      Here is how you can make a quick and effective difference!

    • Say no to Styrofoam, straws, coffee lids, plastic bags—they all add up
    • Buy products with a minimal amount of plastic, examples: bar soap vs. plastic container, box detergent vs. plastic container, etc.
    • Carry your own reusable containers: metal water bottles, shopping bags, storage containers for restaurant take-out, coffee mugs
    • Keep your watersheds clean – join a stream, reservoir, or beach clean-up
    • Calculate your own plastic pollution impact with this Plastic Pollution Calculator!

    Strong leaders in the fight against plastic: