Impact Of Plastic On Animals & Marine Life

This is a short guide outlining the impact of plastic on animals in general, and also on marine life.


Summary – Impact Of Plastic On Animals & Marine Life

There is several main ways that plastic may have potential to impact animals and organisms on land, and also marine life


These include:

Leaching and the release of chemicals and and additives (e.g. BPA, and phthalates), especially as plastic breaks down 

Carrying of pollutants and contaminants that plastic picks up, from one location to another

Ingesting micro plastics and nano plastics

Ingesting bigger plastics, and getting entangled in bigger plastics

As we have mentioned in other guides on plastic – some of the studies and reports on the impact of plastic on wildlife and living organisms in the wild is clear, whilst others are conflicting or not comprehensive enough to form definitive conclusions on exactly the extent of plastic’s impact on wildlife.

More study can be done that makes it more clearer and definitive what the actual impact of plastic is (with causal links back to plastic itself), the consequences (especially health and fatality related), and how it is happening (so we can find more solutions)


The General Impact Of Plastic On Wildlife

You can read generally about the potential harmful effects of plastic on living organisms and wildlife in this guide.

But, as a summary:

Plastic additives and chemicals like BPA and phthalates can leach out or be released from plastic – some of these chemicals can have a hormone disrupting effect

Specific plastics like highly chlorinated PVC may cause contamination or toxicity issues for some organisms (if for example, it contaminates a water source that organisms live in, or animals drink from this water)

The surface of plastic has the ability to carry organic pollutants found in the environment from one spot to another, or can carry disease-causing organisms and act as a vector that transmits diseases

Micro plastics and nano plastics are frequently ingested by small and large organisms and wildlife, and are found everywhere in the natural environment (in soil, and in rivers and lakes especially)


Impact Of Plastic On Land Based Animals Specifically

We’ve written about how plastic can impact land based organisms and animals in this guide.

As a summary:

… studies have demonstrated that microplastics might be harmful to ecosystems when ingested by aquatic key organisms [and, the same might be said for land based organisms]

Microplastics can also interact with soil fauna, affecting their health and soil functions [and, the Earthworm is an example of an organism that may be affected by this]

The breakdown of plastics can have a toxic effect on land based vertebrates and invertebrates

It has already been shown that when passing the blood-brain barrier nanoplastics have a behaviour-changing effect in fish … but some of the other long term effects of nano plastics in animals have not yet been sufficiently explored

Recent studies suggest that plastic waste is impacting the growth and reproductive success rates of the animals in our natural world, this is due to chemicals released from decomposing plastic creating a disruption in hormones

Plastic waste is also causing issues for birds – birds make build their nest with it, or eat it or feed it to their young


Impact Of Plastic On Marine Life Specifically

We’ve written about the impact of plastic specifically on marine life in these guides:

Plastic In The Ocean: FAQ Guide

How Plastic Affects Marine Life


As a summary:

Estimates vary, but around 700 to 800 marine species are impacted by marine debris in the ocean per year (and most of that debris is plastic)

Turtles, seals, whales, dolphins, sea lions, seabirds, fish, and invertebrates are all among some of the species impacted

The ingestion of micro and nano plastics can be a problems

But, marine life can ingest bigger bits of plastic

Marine life can also get entangled in fishing line and nets

Some estimates say around 100,000 marine mammals die every year as a result of plastic pollution

Some estimates also say that 1 million sea birds also die from plastic per year







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