Plastic as we know it has only really existed for the last 60-70 years, but in that time it has transformed everything from clothing, cooking and catering, to product design, engineering and retailing.
One of the great advantages of many types of plastic is that they’re designed to last – for a very long time. And nearly all the plastic ever created still exists in some form today. It’s likely that about 10m tonnes of plastic currently ends up in the oceans each year.
For sea birds and larger marine creatures like turtles, dolphins and seals, the danger comes from being entangled in plastic bags and other debris, or mistaking plastic for food. Turtles cannot distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish, which can be part of their diet. Plastic bags, once consumed, cause internal blockages and usually result in death.
Larger pieces of plastic can also damage the digestive systems of sea birds and whales, and can be potentially fatal. Over time, plastic waste slowly degrades and breaks down into tiny micro-fragments which are also causing scientists concern.