By 2018 everyone should have heard of the inconceivable mass that is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Millions of pieces of man-made debris—mostly plastics—can be found in the swirling gyre located a few hundred kilometers off the northern coast of Hawaii. Less dense trash floats near the surface of the water, while denser trash sinks several centimetres below the surface, making The Patch impossible to quantify because of its depth and breadth. Much of the plastic in the oceans has turned into “microplastic” – larger pieces that have broken down via photodegradation – into smaller and smaller pieces. Marine animals often mistake microplastic that is covered in algae for food and consume it. This causes animals that consume it to feel perpetually lethargic and continuously hungry since plastic, as we all know, contains zero nutrients. As The Patch gets larger, it gains control over the marine ecosystem it threatens. Sea turtles, seals, fish, and sea birds are just some of the animals affected by man-made items like fishing lines, nets, straws, and six pack rings.
Plastic makes up a large majority of marine debris because of its design—consumer convenience, longevity and durability. Plastic has jumped from 2.3 million tons produced in 1950 (the start of major plastic production) to 448 million tons in 2015. To put that in perspective, enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times. Plastic does not biodegrade, compost or emulsify. Its polymer makeup consists of carbon-carbon bonds that can live up to 450 years wherever it ends up, which in most cases is the oceans.
If you’re wondering how plastic from a small town in Taiwan ended up in the Pacific, it all started with mismanaged waste—waste that never makes it to the right recycling or disposal plant. Rainwater carries mismanaged waste from inland to local waterways, which feed into rivers and ultimately into the ocean.
It’s hard to visualize the effects that plastic is having on marine ecosystems because we are detached from facts and statistics. Photographer Molly Barker undertook a project that aimed to “give science a visual voice”. Barker used plastic from the ocean and birds’ stomachs to create art pieces that will resonate with people, and shock them into seeing, rather than simply hearing the impacts of plastic. Her goal is to help people see the problem and inspire them to fix it.
An article written by Cassandra Lamontagne applauds the governments of Taiwan, the U.K. and the Bahamas for announcing major bans on single-use plastics. The goal of these nations is to phase out plastic pollution in the next 30 years. Her article discusses the environmental benefits of these decisions.
The Plastic Bank—an NPO with a mission to turn the dark side of plastic as it stands in the present, towards a brighter future—has turned plastic into currency, allowing people that collect plastic to trade it for money, creating incentive for clean-up. Their goal is to empower recycling systems and stop the flow of plastic into the oceans.
Governments, organizations and individuals are taking the pledge to eliminate single-use plastic and give existing plastic a purpose. There are simple things each of us can do to help.
7 things you can do to reduce your plastic intake
- Reusable straws – there’s no need for plastic straws
- Ditch the plastic bags – cloth bags are affordable and easily accessible
- Reusable beverage containers – the best way to help eliminate plastic bottles
- Zero Waste grocery stores – these types of grocery stores are popping up in places around the world, Google one in your area and stop by and follow these tips
- Avoid plastic packaging – buy bar soap, use paper-middle q-tips, get a refillable toothbrush head, buy produce from a farmer’s market (and bring a cloth bag!)
- Recycle that! – check the recycling symbol on your package and recycle accordingly based on your municipality
- Don’t litter. Pick up what you see – recycle and throw out what you need to in the appropriate bin, not on the ground
We can change the future of production and consumption if we do our part and set an example for our government, our community and each other.
Using the above list, what’s one plastic thing you can easily change in your everyday life?