Litter decomposition is an important component of the global carbon and nitrogen cycles. Because climate exerts strong controls over rates of litter decomposition, climate change may alter both cycles. Climate change can influence litter decomposition rates directly, or indirectly through changes in litter quality. The relative importance of climate and litter quality in controlling rates of decomposition varies across ecosystem types. Changes in decomposition process may have large impacts on the production of gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). Picking up litter and reusing things can help decrease the litter. For example recycling a shopping bag full of such containers can save at least five kilograms of greenhouse gas and reduces litter.

Beach litter (Top 10):

1. Plastic pieces >1cm and <50cm
2. Plastic pieces <1cm
3. Crisps, sweets and lolly wrappers
4. Plastic cups and lids
5. Cotton bud sticks
6. Fishing nets <50cm
7. Rope
8. Polystyrene pieces
9. Plastic drinks bottles
10. Cigarette stubs.

The plastic rubbish found on beaches near urban areas tends to originate from use on land, such as packaging material used to wrap around other goods. In all, plastic items made up 59% of all litter recorded in 2005.



The Problem

By discarding plastic thoughtlessly, especially fishing gear and packaging, people are accidentally causing the deaths of millions of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish every year.The problem comes when we no longer want these items and how we dispose of them, particularly the throwaway plastic material used in wrapping or packaging. Plastics are used because they are easy and cheap to make and they can last a long time. Unfortunately these same useful qualities can make plastic a huge pollution problem. The cheapness means plastic gets discarded easily and its long life means it survives in the environment for long periods where it can do great harm. Because plastic does not decompose, and requires high energy ultra-violet light to break down, the amount of plastic waste in our oceans is steadily increasing.

The Threat

This plastic can affect marine wildlife in two important ways: by entangling creatures, and by being eaten.

Turtles/ Marine animals: Alot of species are already under threat or endangered e.g by hunting. A recent US report concluded that 100,000 marine mammals die each year in the world's oceans by eating or becoming entangled in plastic rubbish, and the position is worsening. When a marine mammal gets caught up in a large piece of plastic, it may simply drown, or become exhausted and die of starvation due to the greater effort needed to swim, or the plastic may kill slowly over a period of months or years as it bites into the animal causing wounds, loss of blood and/or severing of limbs. One horiffic example of this is when a dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific was found to have more than 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach including part of a comb, a toy truck wheel and nylon rope.

"Ghost Nets": A large number of marine creatures become trapped and killed in "ghost nets". These are pieces of gill nets which have been lost by fishing vessels. Other pieces of fishing equipment such as lobster pots may also keep trapping creatures.

Marine Birds: World-wide, 75 marine bird species are known to eat plastic articles. A recent study of blue petrel chicks at South Africa's remote Marion Island showed that 90% of chicks examined had plastic in their stomachs apparently fed to them accidentally by their parents.Plastics may remain in the stomachs, blocking digestion and possibly causing starvation. As particular species seem to be badly affected this may be a threat to whole populations of these birds.