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Why is plastic bad for the ocean?

Seabird with plastic in ocean pollution

We all know that plastic is bad for the ocean because it sticks around forever, harming marine life. But did you know that plastic is made from fossil fuels? 

Why is plastic in the ocean a problem?

The presence of plastic in the ocean has a devastating impact on marine life. Plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine pollution (UNESCO). Marine animals are often entangled in plastic debris, which can cause starvation, suffocation, and drowning (PEW). Many ocean animals also suffer from cuts, internal injuries, and infections which can inhibit their ability to swim (IUCN). Animals such as seabirds, whales, fish, and turtles mistake these plastic pieces for prey, and as their stomachs become full of plastic, most die of starvation (IUCN). Additionally, floating plastics can help transfer invasive species, which can lead to the extinction of native plants, destroy habitats, and threaten biodiversity (NOAA). The breakdown of plastic debris into “microplastics” in the ocean also increases ocean acidification (Science Direct).

Plastic pollution in the ocean

What are microplastics?

Overtime, larger pieces of plastic break down into smaller pieces of plastic; pieces that are 5mm or less are called “microplastics”, and have their own damaging effects on the ocean.


Why are microplastics bad for the ocean? 

Microplastics increase ocean acidification. According to a study from Science Direct, the breakdown of plastic debris, especially if the plastic is aged and exposed to weathering for a long time, increases the acidity of water; sunlight exposure makes the effects even worse (Science Direct). Ocean acidification eats away at the minerals used by oysters, clams, lobsters, shrimp, coral reefs, and other marine life to build their shells and skeletons (NOAA).

Filter feeders often ingest these microplastics; when they’re eaten, microplastics produce toxic effects such as inhibited growth and development, reduced food intake, reproductive toxicity, immunity toxicity, genetic damage, etc. (IOP). Nano-scale microplastics can build up in the tissue of marine life, affecting their biology at the molecular level (IOP).

Plastic is made from fossil fuels

So you know that plastic waste hurts the marine life in our oceans; but did you know producing plastic damages our oceans too? Most plastics today are made from crude oil, natural gas, and coal (BPF). In the United States, most plastics are made with natural gas and petroleum, or crude oil (EIA). 

Fossil fuels and air pollution climate change

Why are fossil fuels bad for the ocean?

Fossil fuels (such as natural gas, petroleum, crude oil) require drilling into earth’s surface either on land or at sea. Drilling often damages public land, disturbs wildlife & water resources, and causes air pollution. Every time we drill, we’re at risk of an oil spill. 

Additionally, plastic has a large carbon footprint; if the plastics industry were a country, it would be the fifth-highest emitter in the world. Petroleum refineries are a major source of hazardous & toxic air pollutants. Ultimately, the process of extracting fossil fuels damages our earth and fuels climate change.

Overall, we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels. The risks associated with drilling, and the carbon released from burning fossil fuels for energy, accelerates climate change and increases ocean acidification (EPA).

What are bioplastics?

Bioplastics are plastic-like substances made from renewable resources. Bioplastics use the sugar in plants to create a similar substance to plastic; plants often used are sugarcane, beets, wheat, potatoes, and corn.

Bioplastics are made from renewable resources

Bioplastics are a better option for our environment because they end our reliance on fossil fuels; also, they’ll eventually break down into organic material. Some bioplastics are even compostable, which means that they’ll break down into nutrient-rich soil. This is a big step forward from traditional plastic, which lasts forever.

Unfortunately bioplastics are not perfect; it takes a long time for some bioplastics to break down, and when they end up in landfills, they contribute to methane emissions (NIH). Although many bioplastics can be industrially composted, people do not have access to industrial composting facilities across the United States.

The production of bioplastics is a lot kinder to our plant; but they must be discarded appropriately in order to reap the full benefits of this plastic-free alternative.

We’ve been able to divert 50,000 lbs of fossil-fuel-based plastic from landfills. The zipper on our kelp chips bags is a PLA bioplastic material made of cornstarch; the rest of our packaging is made from kraft paper, wood pulp, and soy-based inks. To learn more about our industrially compostable kelp chip bags, check out our “Plastic-Free Journey” here. If you have questions on how to dispose of your kelp chips bags, contact us here.