SAN DIEGO — It's no secret we have a plastic problem, the planet is suffocating in it, according to researchers.

Plastic can last for centuries and it's being produced at an alarming rate. The images of trash washed up on once-gorgeous beaches are a heartbreaking sign of the times.

A researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dr. Sarah Jeanne Royer, comes face-to-face with our plastic problem for a living. She studies the global impact, "plastic pollution is an issue all over the world."

Specifically, she was collecting samples from Hawaii where 95% of the trash comes from other countries, "it is definitely changing our eco-system."

Dr. Royer has also researched the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. That's the largest roundup of plastics in the world. It's twice the size of Texas - between California and Hawaii - where the world's waste gets caught in a gyre, which is a large system of circulating ocean currents.

Dr. Royer says trash is swirling around creating an unfathomable amount of microplastics. Those are small plastic pieces that are getting swallowed up by marine life, "unfortunately we've seen many animals dying," she said.

The animals are eating plastic or getting tangled up in plastic, and this is damaging all marine life directly and indirectly.

In the lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Dr. Royer works alongside Dr. Dimitri Deheyn who is the Deheyn Lab leader. They are trying to provide hope to a very dismal situation.

Dr. Deheyn says, "why do we need to care? Look at this (pointing to the ocean.) We need to have a way of life that makes us live together with harmony and nature. We can't just continue oppressing nature, we have to live with it."

Dr. Deheyn says it all starts with us, "by changing the mentality and changing the way the materials are made."

That may mean we need to give up what's cheap and convenient for more eco-conscious items, "we are in this big bubble but we are part of the bubble. It'll circle around and come right back at us. The only way to preserve this beautiful scenery is to take action all together."

According to researchers, 500 billion plastic water bottles are used every year around the world, 1 million single-use plastic bottles are sold every minute. And only 9% of plastic gets recycled.

Some News 8 viewers have already started to show us on social media how they are taking steps to make a change.