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It’s commonly rephrased that plastic, once introduced to the environment as garbage, never degrades and will contribute to pollution for a very long time. Exactly how long is that though? How long does plastic survive for in our environment?

There are basically two nightmare scenarios in terms of plastic pollution in the ocean and wider environment. The first is that plastic will never biodegrade. This is the case in most places, as the complex formation of synthetic plastics makes them extremely durable and unlikely to degrade into compounds after being discarded as garbage. If plastic never biodegrades, it exists in our environment forever, posing dangers to wildlife as well as to our human lifestyle by continually polluting its surroundings. This is most common of treated plastics and PET plastics, like bottles and other containers.

A second, equally-bad scenario involves the eventual disintegration of plastics in ocean water. Over a long period of time, some untreated plastics and thinner, flimsier debris can actually be degraded by warmer ocean temperatures and sun. This is just as bad, if not worse, for the environment because in this “melting-down” of plastics, toxic chemicals are disbursed into the ocean and directly threaten ecosystems through poisoning. Either way, there is no good outcome in plastic pollution; we must take steps to prevent this from happening to our oceans today.