About 32% of the world’s plastic production ends up leaking into the natural environment. Once there it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it never goes away. Every single plastic molecule created still exists somewhere on the planet. As plastic degrades it becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to clean up and remove.
Plastic in the environment presents a mixture of threats to wildlife. Over 663 species have been documented interacting with debris in some form. 15% of these were red listed by the IUCN.
As plastic breaks down, it releases the additive chemicals that give it specific properties. These chemicals, including BPA, PCBDs and PAHs are toxic, and have been found in high concentrations in marine wildlife. These chemicals are known to carcinogenic and hormone disruptors.
Large pieces of plastic become wrapped around animals. Entanglement can lead to drowning, starvation, and injury.
Smaller pieces of plastic are often mistaken as food and ingested, damaging internal organs, blocking the digestion tract, or tricking the animal into believing it is full, all of which leads to starvation and ultimate death.
Smaller pieces, known as microplastics, can even become directly integrated into animal tissues. Recent studies indicate that humans ingest up to 11,000 pieces of plastic annually through seafood consumption. Human health risk is still unknown.