Living organisms, including Humans, but particularly marine animals are affected through entanglement, direct ingestion of plastic waste, or through exposure to chemicals within plastics that cause interruptions in biological functions.
The Marine Conservancy has predicted the decomposition rates of several plastic products. It is estimated that a foam plastic cup will take 50 years, a plastic beverage holder will take 400 years, a disposable diaper will take 450 years, and fishing line will take 600 years to degrade.
In 2012, it was estimated that there was approximately 165 million tons of plastic pollution in the World‘s oceans. One study estimated that there are more than 5.25 trillion particles of plastic pollution that weigh as much as 270,000 tons are in the ocean.
Plankton, fish, and ultimately the Human race, through the food chain, ingest these highly toxic carcinogens and chemicals. Consuming the fish that contain these toxins can cause an increase in cancer, immune disorders, and birth defects.
Entanglement in plastic debris has been responsible for the deaths of many marine organisms, such as fish, seals, turtles, and birds. These animals get caught in the debris and end up suffocating or drowning.
Because they are unable to untangle themselves, they also die from starvation or from their inability to escape predators. It has been estimated that over 400,000 marine mammals perish annually due to plastic pollution in oceans.