Widespread use of plastics outside of the military did not occur until after World War II. The ensuing rapid growth in plastics production is extraordinary, surpassing most other man-made materials. Its largest market is packaging, an application whose growth was accelerated by a global shift from reusable to single-use containers. As a result, the share of plastics in municipal solid waste (by mass) increased from less than 1% in 1960 to, and according to the EPA, more than 13% by 2015.
The amount of plastic entering the ocean is on the rise: every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics are added to the estimated 150 million metric tons already circulating affecting 700 species.
To address the plastic epidemic, Boyan Slat at age 18 founded the Ocean Cleanup to remove plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. By 2025, the Ocean Cleanup project hopes to cut the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in half.
Ocean pollution also comes in through a number of additional outlets such as sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff, garbage dumping, and chemical spills. Pesticide and fertilizer runoff are creating huge dead zones — oxygen-depleted areas where many marine species struggle to survive. The world’s largest dead zone, located in the Gulf of Mexico, is roughly the size of Connecticut.