“It’s not as simple as going out there and just scooping up these floating islands of trash” – Nick Mallos, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program
According to a 2017 study published in the Science Advances journal, there has been an estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced, with almost 60% of it making its way into landfills or the ocean. Predictions advise that there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.
Plastic is largely non-biodegradable, meaning it cannot be broken down into reusable components. A plastic bottle, for example, would take approximately 450 years, if not longer, to decompose. A plastic bag, on the other hand, would take almost 1000 years to biodegrade.
Plastic contaminates oceans, injures and kills marine animals. It has already affected over 800 species worldwide. Humans are affected too, with microplastic making its way into water, sea salt and sea food.
The global production and consumption of plastic can be visually manifested on beaches across the world.
According to studies, the most common items found in the ocean are cigarette butts, food wrappers, as well as plastic bottles, bottle caps, shopping bags, straws and stirrers, lids and takeaway containers. These items are predominantly found in the oceans surrounding China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand, with brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle being the most frequently collected in clean ups.
Slowly, more laws are coming into effect which aim to cut national plastic consumption. For example, since October 2015, individuals have had to pay 5p for a plastic bag, which could increase to 10p in the coming years.
Customer activism plays an equally important role in reducing plastic pollution. Corporate companies take consumer preference and purchasing habits into account so, by asking for less plastic on shelves, we can reduce the overall amount of plastic that is being purchased and discarded. For example, brands such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, H&M and L’Oréal have pledged for 100% of their plastic packaging to be reused and recycled by 2025. In addition, public activism led to the widespread ban of straws.
Technology has also been developed to fight against the mountain of plastic pollution.The Ocean Cleanup created a 2,000-foot-long pipe which acts as a floating rubbish collector. The device travels through waves and storms sweeping up plastic, with an ‘impermeable underwater skirt’ collecting plastic that falls underneath the surface. The idea is to collect larger floating items, before trying to gather the smaller pieces.
“No matter who you are, you’re connected to the ocean. No matter where you live, you’re connected to the ocean,” – Emma Tonge, Communications and Outreach Specialist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Debris Program
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