9. What are the economic impacts of marine litter?

Collected waste at the west coast of Jutland, Denmark. (Photo: Cecil Feierabend)

In many sectors, the plastic litter in our oceans is already producing additional costs and cutting into profits. Tourism is a good example. Since litter-covered beaches scare off tourists, beach communities have to clean them on a regular basis, in most cases shouldering the costs of plastic collection and disposal themselves. Depending on the region and the level of pollution, plastic litter can also pose problems for fishers. If too much litter clogs their nets, it reduces their catches. It also costs them time to remove the litter from their nets.

Further, litter like old fishing nets can get caught in propellers of ships, which can cause serious damage and even disable the ships.  When that happens, the Coast Guard or some other agency has to come to the rescue, producing additional costs. Another aspect to bear in mind: with all of the litter that ends up in our oceans, valuable raw materials on the order of millions of tonnes are lost to the global recovered substance cycle.

And plastic is almost exclusively manufactured on the basis of petroleum. If a research team’s estimates are any indication, as much as 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up as marine litter every year, a tremendous amount that can neither be recycled nor used as fuel in power plants.