Plastic flowing into the ocean is a growing problem and a great threat. Each year over eight million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean, and it is estimated that there are already five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean.
If we don’t change course soon, globally, there will be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish by 2025. This will have far reaching consequences to the health of the planet’s most valuable resource, one of which will be plastic in the food chain.
In recent years, awareness has skyrocketed thanks to the great work of organizations like the Ocean Conservancy, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and scientists like Jenna Jambeck and Sir David Attenborough. Every day, we continue to learn more about how plastic affects the ocean and how to stem the flow of this potentially hazardous material. There are even ambitious projects to clean-up plastic in the ocean, like the one currently being undertaken by the Ocean Cleanup.
But one major piece is still missing; placing a value on ocean plastic material. We can clean-up and remove all the ocean plastic material we want but, if there is no use for that plastic, or nowhere for it go, we will never fully close the loop.
Ocean plastic, while commonly perceived as an, “ocean problem,” has its origins on land. Over 80 per cent of the plastic in the ocean comes from land-based sources. Typically, plastic pollution problems are worst in the developing world, where waste management practices are lacking or non-existent.
While much of the plastic originates in developing countries, it is far from a developing world problem. For instance, certain islands in Hawaii can be found littered with plastic, much of which originates in Asia. Though it might be convenient to place blame on the developing world, most of the demand for that plastic is created by the developed world. Even the US, perhaps the largest consumer of single use plastics, only recycles around nine per cent of post-consumer plastic materials, discarding over 32 million tons. Disposal of plastics is a global problem.
For sure, solving this crisis is no mean feat. It will require the global community of consumers to demand better packaging from corporations and better disposal solutions from city authorities.
So, what can you do about ocean plastic pollution? Everyone can do something to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the ocean. Here are seven ways you can make a difference.
1. Reduce Your Use of Single-Use Plastics
Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way that you can get started is by reducing your own use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded.
The best way to do this is by a) refusing any single-use plastics that you do not need (e.g. straws, plastic bags, takeout utensils, takeout containers), and b) purchasing, and carrying with you, reusable versions of those products, including reusable grocery bags, produce bags, bottles, utensils, coffee cups, and dry cleaning garment bags. And when you refuse single-use plastic items, help businesses by letting them know that you would like them to offer alternatives.
2. Recycle Properly
This should go without saying, but when you use single-use (and other) plastics that can be recycled, always be sure to recycle them. At present, just 9% of plastic is recycled worldwide. Recycling helps keep plastics out of the ocean and reduces the amount of “new” plastic in circulation.
3. Participate In (or Organize) a Beach or River Clean-up
Help remove plastics from the ocean and prevent them from getting there in the first place by participating in, or organizing a clean-up of your local beach or waterway. This is one of the most direct and rewarding ways to fight ocean plastic pollution. You can simply go to the beach or waterway and collect plastic waste on your own or with friends or family, or you can join a local organization’s cleanup.
4. Support Bans
Many municipalities around the world have enacted bans on single use plastic bags, takeout containers, and bottles. You can support the adoption of such policies in your community.
5. Avoid Products Containing Microbeads
Tiny plastic particles, called “microbeads,” have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for “polythelene” and “polypropylene” on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products.
6. Spread the Word
Stay informed on issues related to plastic pollution and help make others aware of the problem. Tell your friends and family about how they can be part of the solution, or host a viewing party for one of the many plastic pollution focused documentaries, like Bag It, Addicted to Plastic, Plasticized, or Garbage Island.
7. Support Organizations Addressing Plastic Pollution
There are many non-profit organizations working to reduce and eliminate ocean plastic pollution in a variety of different ways, including Oceanic Society, Plastic Pollution Coalition, 5 Gyres, Algalita, Plastic Soup Foundation, and others. These organizations rely on donations from people like you to continue their important work. Even small donations can make a big difference!
And of course, you can also join the team’s Race Against Climate Change initiative! Sign up now HERE
This article has been adapted from a piece first published on www.virgin.com