In 2003, we declared war on Iraq after accusing Saddam Hussein of harboring “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD). Our government claimed that it had to keep our country safe. We spent thousands of lives, and billions of dollars on this war about WMD, which turned out not to exist.

In the meantime, day by day another insidious WMD has been growing exponentially in our oceans. Disposable plastic debris is now ubiquitous in the world’s oceans, where it is wreaking havoc on marine life and contaminating our seafood supply, a primary source of protein for billions of our global population.

And the world’s governments stand idly by, ignoring this new WMD that is growing in our oceans.


Quoting Capt. Charles Moore, the sea captain who first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the north Pacific Ocean, “The world is awash in plastic. We wrap it around the food we eat and virtually every other product that we consume or use. Disposable plastic products pose a threat to all marine life.”

Marine scientists estimate that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

That prediction is not so surprising since the amounts of disposable plastic products that we use are in fact staggering. Just here in the U.S.:

We use 100 billion plastic bags every year;

We use 50 billion plastic bottles every year;

We use 500 million plastic straws every day;

We use 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups every year (almost 3 million every hour!);

And 800 trillion microbeads disappear down our drains every day (in addition to all the other plastic “stuff”).

That adds up to the production of 300 million tons of plastic every year, a great part of which ends up in our oceans. It is well known that plastic litter in the ocean can entangle and eventually drown millions of sea creatures. But additionally, after the plastic enters the ocean, it slowly photodegrades and eventually breaks down into tiny pieces so small that often they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Hundreds of species from the smallest fish to the largest blue whale mistake these microplastics for natural food which they ingest but cannot digest, causing a slow and painful death of the marine animal.

Gruesome examples abound and have been reported in the media. As far back as 2002 a dead Minke whale washed up on the coast of Normandy, France, with nearly a ton of plastic in its stomach, including bags from British supermarkets. In 2008, two sperm whales stranded on the California coast and were found to have over 400 pounds of plastic bags in their intestines.

More recently an emaciated whale floated into a small cove in Norway. The whale had to be shot to take it out of its misery. During the necropsy, about 30 large plastic bags were removed from the whale’s organs.


Albatross chicks, hatched on the remote Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean, die by the thousands with their stomachs full of disposable plastic that has been fed to them by their parents who mistook the bright colored plastic pieces for food. And these are only some of the reported tragedies. We have no idea how many other creatures die and sink to the bottom of the ocean after a grisly death of starvation or torn flesh.

As yet we do not know how much harm is being done to humans. We do know that the lantern fish, plankton and krill eat immeasurable amounts of plastic particulates and their contaminants. These bait fish are then devoured by larger fish, and are quickly passed along the food chain ultimately ending up on our dinner plates.

So how do we confront these plastic weapons of mass destruction? We must reduce the daily outflow of plastic into our oceans. We can dramatically reduce our use of plastic by refusing to use disposable plastic products and we must recycle whatever residual plastic we continue to use. We can help with beach and ocean clean-ups. But at the end of the day these activities are only Band-aids that are insufficient to solve the problem.

As Capt. Moore stated some years ago, “The reality is that only by preventing disposable plastic products from getting into the ocean in the first place will a measurable reduction in the ocean’s plastic load be accomplished. Until we stop the flow of plastic to the sea, the global threat of this plastic age will only get worse.”

So while our government continues to protect the American people from possible overseas threats it ignores the real threats posed by our own domestic industries who are enabling havoc in our oceans, and exposing unknown numbers of our population to the hazards of plastic pollutants.

In 2017, it is way past time for governments to declare war on plastic before it is too late.

[And until the governments awake, the public may help the cause by joining the new global organization at:]

Goffinet McLaren is an environmental activist and author who lives at Pawleys Island.