We are managing to survive, but is the world ocean doing the same thing? The short answer to this question is simply ‘barely’. Despite this unequivocally discouraging start, we still have the power to change the narrative.
Currently, more than 8 million tons of litter, both visible and microplastics, are leaked into the ocean each year. This figure corresponds to a per capita equivalent of 212g or a conventional plastic shopping bag being disposed of in the ocean each week.
In order to reduce and even possibly eradicate this problem, we have the duty of singling out the actions that have a negative impact on the biodiversity of the oceans, find ways to eliminate them and come up with sustainable alternatives to disposing of litter. When referring to marine plastic waste, we have to include all sizes, from large and visible items to small, invisible ones. Marine plastic waste can be categorised into two groups: intentional and unintentional.
On the one hand, intentional waste is mostly constituted by personal care products, that are poured on purpose into wastewater. From the vast array of products that fit into this category, ranging from lip balms to anti-ageing products, sunscreen proves to be the most dangerous one, mainly due to the high concentration of oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is an organic compound proved to cause defects such as deformity, inability to reproduce and even mortality to the ocean life it comes into contact with.
On the other hand, contrasting sources, such as errors in the recycling process, abrasion, accidents during production or transport, and misuse are considered to be unintentional loses. Nevertheless, in spite of the difference of the occurrence, the latter is not less dangerous than the first and nor should it be taken more lightly. Due to the presence of polluting factors in natural habitats, UNEP claims that 177 species are affected, out of which up to a million are seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless fish.
The process of solving these issues is not brisk but it surely is necessary. A measure that can be taken is implementing an improved waste management process, that not only reduces the quantity of plastic waste but also aims to optimize, reduce and re-use packaging. In order to achieve this, an educational paradigm shift is necessary, in such a manner that recycling and environmentally friendly behaviours become innate values to both current and future generations. We need to start taking into consideration ecological limits and stop pushing the biophysical boundaries of the oceans. Measures and projects are already taken in this direction. For example, The Ocean Cleanup is a crowdfunding project that implements state of the art technology that aims to liberate the world’s ocean from micro and macro plastic waste. Their vision is to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific marine environment in 5 years. Moreover, the Plastic Free Project, also known as “Clean coffee Mug” or ‘’Clean Coffee’’, is connected to the idea of keeping plastic waste out of the oceans. Furthermore, The Trash Free Seas Alliance is engaging in the private sector in order to solve the problem of plastic litter and works in alliance with governments to support innovative waste management systems. Last but certainly not least, The United Nations Environment Programme has launched a global campaign in February 2017 that aims to remove the main sources of marine litter- microplastics in cosmetics.
Overall, measures are already being taken in order to eradicate plastic waste from the oceans. What should also be considered, aside from the actions of environmental programs, is our own response to the problem, as ‘’No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible’’(Lec, 1969). We need to be aware of the repercussions of our actions and put the interest of the environment and common good above ours.
Optimistic about the future,
Medeea and Davide
Lec, S. (1969). More unkempt thoughts. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.