2017 is the year when the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean finally received the attention that this enormous problem deserves. It has been estimated that over eight million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year. We at Blue Ocean have become so concerned by this issue that we are publishing a continuing series of articles exploring the various aspects of this problem. See our series Life Beyond Plastics in the News.
The Plastic Pollution Problem!
Our article: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Taking Out the Trash focused on the immensity of the plastic pollution problem by describing the circular current between Japan and California that collects an enormous debris field the size of Texas. Known as the North Pacific Gyre or more commonly the Great Pacific Garbage Patch it is the largest of five major gyres located in each of the planet’s oceans.
In Thousands of Miles Away Is Not Far Enough Too Escape Plastic Pollution Blue Ocean reported on how plastic debris finds its way onto the most remote beaches, even the South Pacific’s Henderson island in the Pitcairn Island Group. (photo -Cosmos Magazine)
“Far from being the pristine ‘deserted island’ that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale.”
A Heartbreaking Moment!
In Blue Planet II, David Attenborough’s sequel to his award winning 2001 BBC documentary, the renown British naturalist described as “heartbreaking” a moment when an albatross feeds a young chick a plastic toothpick, resulting in the chick’s death.
“Never before have we been so aware of what we are doing to our planet—and never before have we had such power to do something about it,” he wrote. “Surely we have a responsibility to care for the planet on which we live? The future of humanity, and indeed of all life on Earth, now depends on us doing so.”
Solutions Start With Awareness
The United Nations Environmental Assembly launched an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate plastic pollution in the ocean. The CleanSeas Campaign announced at the World Ocean Summit in Bali last February, urges industry to minimize plastic packaging and consumers to make more sustainable choices in their uses of single-use, throw-away plastic products.
“Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.” Urged Erik Solheim, the head of UN Environment.
Ten countries immediately pledged to reduce plastic marine litter, including Indonesia (the second worst ocean polluter) that pledged $1 billion to reduce their plastic pollution 70% by 2025.
Major companies like Dell Computer joined in and announced that their packaging in the future will be produced from recycled ocean plastics.
Changing the Law: National, International, Local!
Cities, states and countries have passed new laws banning many single-use plastic products, especially the ubiquitous and deadly plastic produce bag. Ubiquitous because they are everywhere, for example in Kenya they use 24 million plastic bags each month. Deadly, because in addition to choking waste removal efforts, the bags often blow or float into the ocean where they are a death sentence for birds and marine mammals like sea turtles that mistakenly eat them.
“Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty,” read an official UNEP statement. On the other side of the planet, Costa Rica plans to put in place a national strategy to eliminate all, single-use plastics by 2021.
New Delhi, India has taken Kenya’s example one step further, by banning all plastic, including bags, cups and cutlery starting in 2017. One of the world’s most polluted cities, New Delhi was forced to take this dramatic action, because plastics were in insurmountable obstacle to cleaning up their act. See our post: Ocean Pollution Update: Positive Things Happening
Read the inspiring story of two friends that started to clean up the beaches of Mumbai, India. An action that grew into the world’s largest beach clean-up. Now, every weekend hundreds of volunteers, school children, politicians and Bollywood stars come together for what has been called “a date with the ocean”.
The city of Seattle has banned restaurants from providing their patrons with throwaway plastic straws and cups. Many of the city’s restaurants had already started dispensing disposable or reusable alternatives to plastic as a result of a campaign called “Strawless in Seattle.”
Individuals Taking Responsibility
In 2016 a heartbreaking video went viral of a sea turtle in waters off Costa Rica, that had inhaled a plastic straw. Christine Figgener, a marine biologist and Blue Ocean contributor surgically removed the straw, saving the turtle. The disturbing video had over 16 million views and focused our attention on the harm that plastic debris can inflict on marine life.
Plastic straws are in fact, no small problem. Worldwide, we produce over 500,000,000 straws daily, that’s a lot of straws and a lot of plastic, much of it ending up in the ocean.
At Blue Ocean we have focused on what individuals can do to take responsibility for their own use of single-use and throw-away plastic water bottles, shopping bags, plastic cups, cutlery and yes, even straws. See our article: Celebrating Plastic-Free July.
We know that as plastic debris in the ocean breaks apart it forms smaller and smaller particles or microplastics. The small plastic beads manufactured as exfoliants in beauty products and toothpastes are also microplastics. Less than 5 millimeters in size they are not caught in water filtration systems, ending up in the ocean where they threaten marine life and our seafood.
Because of these hazards President Obama in 2015 signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, banning their continued use. (photo – kahlee93)
Are your yoga pants polluting the ocean, they may be more of a culprit than you think. Microfibers are another type of microplastics, but these tiny particles are shed from your clothing, every time synthetic materials are put through the washing machine. They also are too small to be captured by filters either in your machine or in water filtration plants and eventually pass through our waterways into the sea. (photo – returntonow.net
Recent research indicates that 82% of the microplastic pollution found in the Gulf of Mexico were nylon or polyester fibers shed while washing your favorite fleece jacket or workout wear.
As individuals we can help contain this problem by wearing clothing made of natural products instead of synthetics or use special filters along with your next load. See: Stopping Ocean Pollution, One Laundry Load at a Time
Make Fast Fashion Unfashionable
An alarming statistic came out last week, stating that 4 out of 10 millennials in Thailand wear new clothing only once. Fast Fashion as it is known, has become the newest fad and big business in Thailand and China. Millennials stated that they purchased nearly 50% of all the clothes they own within the last year. That is an extraordinary wardrobe turnover in comparison to 11% of baby boomers (those 55 are older). Lots of money is being made and as Fast Fashions become more affordable this trend is just going to get trendier.
The serious part of this statistic is that one in five millennials throw away their unwanted clothes, even the barely worn. This raises many serious ethical and environmental questions. Cheap, throw-away clothing is carbon-intensive to produce and ends up in landfills, if a community is lucky enough to have a landfill, which many Asian communities do not and if not then into rivers and ultimately the ocean. It has been estimated that nearly half a million tons of microfibers from clothing ends up in the ocean each year. That’s the equivalent of a billion plastic bottles not to mention the bleaches and dyes used during the manufacturing process. (photo – Apparel Magazine)
In our article: Life Beyond Plastics: How Fashion is Killing Our Rivers we documented how rivers in India were dying because of toxic pollutants from clothing manufacturing. “the shirts off our backs leave a devastating planetary impact,” writes Lorraine Chow in EcoWatch.
In our article: Kayaking the World’s Most Polluted River! we followed two brothers who kayaked down the Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia, where 300 tons of industrial waste are dumped into the river each day, making it the world’s most polluted river. Blue Ocean will be following the brothers as they paddle down other polluted rivers, stayed tuned.
Repurposing, Recycling, Rethinking Plastics
Our series Life Beyond Plastic offers solutions and inspiring stories of people turning the tide and making a difference. We also brought you stories of manufacturers like Adidas creating new products from recycled plastic debris recovered from the ocean. See: In the Swim with Plastics Recovered from the Sea.
Read about Stella McCartney a fashion designer and advocate for the green fashion movement who has teamed up with Ellen MacArthur of the Macarthur foundation to take on the Fast Fashion Industry.
Find out how small manufacturers can create environmentally friendly products like Bee Kind Wraps that replace plastic wraps and are biodegradable or recyclable. Plus find out more about the environmental friendly alternatives to plastic products, visit the Green Products website. Or join the 5 Gyres Ambassador’s Program, find out more here.
The Kids Are All In!
From helping to clean up beaches around the world, to kick-starting their own start-ups, kids realize the perils of plastic pollution and how it will impact their future.
Olivia (14) and her brother Carter (16) the founders of One More generation, launched their global initiative, the OneLessStraw Pledge Campaign. So far over 3000 people from 44 countries have joined with them to sign the pledge. See: Empowering Youth Can Save Our Oceans: Take the OneLessStraw Pledge!
We have Grown Up Connected and We Can Change the World!
This could have been the slogan of the Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit that was held in Malta in conjunction with the 2017 Our Ocean Conference. The goal of the Youth Summit was for everyone to share the “conviction that we can do something about it!” said Daniela Fernandez, the founder and director of the Sustainable Oceans Alliance.
Many of the participants, whose ages ranged from 15 to 35, already had years of experience solving substantial ocean problems. See Heather Kuhlken’s article: Youth Leaders Offer Hope For Our Oceans!
There is so much happening around the world to recognize and address what is one of this generation’s most pressing environmental problems and we will do our part to keep you abreast of the action. Stay tuned to our series: Life Beyond Plastics
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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