Do you know that less than 10% of plastics that we use and discard are recycled, while 14% has been incinerated and 76% has been disposed of in landfills or released into the environment since 1950. Plastic production has increased to 460 million tonnes in 2019 and subsequently plastic waste generation is also escalating. Globally, nearly 8 million tonnes of plastic waste find their way into our ocean every year (OSPAR Commission 2017). Examples of the plastic wastes that come from the land are plastic bags, disposables consisting of menstrual pads, plastic bottles, food and drink containers, diapers, and so on.
Oceans support up to 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity and provide the major protein sources for humans. But now, marine life is severely affected by plastic pollution as 80% of the marine litter consists of plastic. According to research by Wilcox et.al (2018), 52% of the world’s turtles have mistakenly consumed plastic waste as the floating plastics look like their major food sources, such as jellyfish, sea grass, or algae. Eventually, the turtles will die from suffocation because the plastic cannot be digested. Same with the turtles, seabirds that prey on fish will also accidentally eat the plastic waste. As the plastics pile up in their stomachs, their stomachs will have no space for food, and this will cause the seabirds to die of starvation.
As the larger pieces of plastic break down into smaller and smaller pieces, microplastic will be formed. Microplastics are very small and cause detrimental effects on marine organisms. The microplastics will enter the marine food chain and cause reduced food intake, delayed growth, oxidative damage, reduced reproduction, and abnormal behavior in marine creatures. Seafood consumption is one pathway for human microplastics exposure.
Besides this, plastic-based fishing nets and ropes are also threatening marine life by trapping them inside. According to the World Wildlife Fund, annually 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises are accidentally stuck in abandoned fishnets. These poor marine creatures will not be able to escape from the nets and will slowly die from starvation, suffocation, or exhaustion.
On a recent visit to Semporna, Sabah, Enzo Visca, a student from Universiti Sains Malaysia was shocked to encounter the amount of waste dumped surrounding the floating village of Kampung Simunul. The discarded waste including plastic materials will inextricably leak to the sea.
As marine litter pollution is getting serious, the Ministry of Environment and Water with the technical support from the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA) has developed the National Marine Litter Policy and Action Plan 2021-2023 to address the issue. There are three targeted areas for marine litter actions at the national level, i.e. reducing the amount and impact of land-based solid waste, sea-based solid waste, and marine litter on shorelines into the sea. We need concerted efforts and actions to address the marine litter issue in Malaysia and globally.
In order to save our world and oceans from plastic, all countries must develop and implement an effective waste management infrastructure to ensure that all waste and end-of-life plastics are recovered and dealt with in an environmentally-safe manner. We need to address marine litter and the full lifecycle of plastics as these pollutants are damaging our oceans. Together, we must clean up and protect our oceans!
This article was contributed by Ung Jun Min, intern at SAM
 End Plastic Pollution by 2040 | High Ambition Coalition. Retrieved from https://hactoendplasticpollution.org/
 OSPAR Commission (2017) Assessment document of land-based inputs of microplastics in the marine environment.
 Wilcox, C., Puckridge, M., Schuyler, Q, A., Townsend, K., Hardesty, B, D. (2018). A quantitative analysis linking sea turtle mortality and plastic debris ingestion. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-30038-z
 Johnson, C. (2021) Whales and the plastics problem | WWF. Retrieved from https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/whales-and-the-plastics-problem
 Li, Y., Sun, Y., Li, J., Tang, R., Miu, Y., Ma, X. (2021) IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science Research on the Influence of Microplastics on Marine Life. Retrieved from https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1755-1315/631/1/012006/pdf#:~:text=Marine%20microplastics%20will%20affect%20many,oxidative%20damage%20and%20abnormal%20behavior.
 Ministry of Environment and Water. National Marine Litter Policy and Action Plan 2021-2030.