At this point in time, talking about plastic pollution in the ocean may seem futile. We are faced with so many other crises that are affecting our health, our economy, our jobs, our livelihoods and our climate.
However, with climate change, things have accelerated at an alarming rate. We have now entered a period in history where we need to act quickly for the survival of our planet and, eventually, the human race. We have been too reliant on the government to take action but so far very little has been done. The extent of the work to be done is so huge that I thought for many years that I alone couldn’t do anything to help. Having spent many years as a dive instructor in various oceans around the world, I have seen first hand the damage done to the sea. Being aware is not enough. I had to take some sort of action. So now my daughter and I have a mission. We live in Mallorca and every single time we go into the sea we collect plastic. This is a huge task. But we have started it one plastic bag at a time. Either swimming, kayaking, snorkelling or with our paddleboard. All we need is will power, patience and enthusiasm. I also wanted to share with you the shocking facts about marine plastic pollution. Hopefully, this raises your awareness even more and prompts you to take action too!
13 shocking facts about marine plastic pollution!
- It has been estimated that 8 million tonnes of this plastic waste enters the ocean every year. If we carry on at this rate we face an ocean with more plastic than fish by 2050.
- Single-use plastic is everywhere in our lives, it wraps our food, our technology, and the vast majority of our consumer goods. What is shocking is that single-use plastics, primarily made from fossil fuel-based chemicals, are meant to be disposed of right after use, often within minutes, but will outlive us by hundreds of years. They will end up in landfills, littering our landscape and destroying our oceans. 80% of marine plastic pollution originates from landfills.
- Global plastics consumption is predicted to grow dramatically, to reach close to 400 million tonnes a year by 2025.
- It has been documented that five countries in Asia (China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) are estimated to account for as much as 60% of the plastic waste entering the Ocean.
- The plastic debris floating on the ocean surface accounts for only 5% of all the plastic trash dumped into the sea; the other 95% is submerged beneath the surface.
- Many of the products we use in our day to day like toothpaste, face wash, abrasive cleaners, etc, also include billions of tiny pieces of plastic, called microbeads. These microbeads are small enough to easily pass through water filtration and sewage treatment systems to end up polluting the Ocean.
- Biodegradable plastics are an alternative to conventional plastics. However, they are not a long term solution as they are expensive to produce, energy-intensive and they may encourage us to believe that it’s ok to throw them away anywhere because they are biodegradable. Furthermore, they remain highly toxic and dangerous to marine animals if ingested
- Plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.
- Floating plastic waste has been shown to accumulate in 5 subtropical Gyres that cover 40 per cent of the world’s oceans. There are five major Gyres: the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres, the North and South Atlantic Subtropical Gyres, and the Indian Ocean Subtropical Gyre.
- The most visible and disturbing impacts of marine plastics are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fish and turtles mistake plastic waste for prey, swallow them and consequently die of starvation as their stomachs are filled with plastic debris. They also suffer from lacerations, infections, reduced ability to swim, and internal injuries. Floating plastics also contribute to the spread of invasive marine organisms and bacteria, which disrupt ecosystems.
- Invisible plastic has been identified in tap water, beer, salt and is present in all samples collected in the world’s oceans, including the Arctic. Several chemicals used in the production of plastic materials are known to be carcinogenic and to interfere with the body’s endocrine system, causing developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune disorders in both humans and wildlife.
- Plastic debris often contains chemicals added during manufacture that can absorb and concentrate contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (e.g. polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs). These harmful substances can transfer into the tissue of aquatic species like the fish we consume, and subsequently into humans.
- The main sources of marine plastic are land-based, from our cities, sewer overflows, beach visitors, inadequate waste disposal, industrial activities, construction and illegal dumping. Ocean-based plastic originates mainly from the fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture.
What can we do?
- Stop using plastic and create new habits.
Ninety per cent of the plastic items in our daily lives are used once and then chucked: grocery bags, plastic wrap, disposable cutlery, straws, coffee-cup lids. Refuse plastic whenever possible. We must wean ourself off disposable plastics, say no to straws, lids, plastic bags, and plastic takeaway containers. Instead carry our own reusable mugs, glass water bottles, cloth bags to the stores, wooden utensils, etc. Replace plastic items at home with alternatives made from natural materials (bamboo toothbrushes, glass jars, wooden toys).
2. Stop buying water.
Each year, close to 20 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash, many of them will end up in the ocean. Carry a reusable bottle in your bag, and use your local tap water. If you’re nervous about the quality of your local tap water, it is worth investing in a reverse osmosis water unit. We all carry our own reusable bottles now and use our home filtered water supply.
3. Cook more at home.
Not only is it healthier and cheaper in the long run, but also making your own meals from the comfort of your own home doesn’t involve takeout containers or doggy bags. Purchase loose fruits and vegetables or shop at the farmers market. For those times when you do order in or eat out, tell the restaurant you don’t need any plastic cutlery or cups or plates. I have to admit that one positive aspect of the lockdown period is that it did oblige me and my family to eat in. We have thoroughly enjoyed it and we all took turns to cook, add variety to our meals, and be creative with our shopping.
4. Recycle More!
The plastic you put in the bin ends up in a landfill. Some of this plastic rubbish will end up in the river and eventually in the ocean, during transport or being swept away by the wind.
It seems obvious, but we’re not doing a great job of it. For example, less than 14 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled. So let’s make a conscious effort and recycle more.
5. Whenever possible buy second hand.
Many second-hand items have barely been used. Start searching online, at your local charity shop, thrift store or your local neighbourhood garage sale, you will be surprised to see how many items you can buy at a fraction of the new price, still in impeccable condition and without plastic packaging, hard to crack shells and twisty ties. Also by reusing these items yourself, you are making sure they don’t end up in landfills in your countryside.
6. Stop throwing down the drain!
Many of the products we use daily are flushed down toilets, including wet wipes, cotton buds, dental floss and sanitary products. Microfibres are even released into waterways when we wash our clothes in the washing machine. Microbeads found in so many beauty products once flushed down the drain may end up being consumed by small marine species, eventually even ending up in our food chain.
7. Start buying in bulk.
Stop buying Single-serving products, travel-size toiletries, tiny packages of nuts. Instead, start buying in bulk. Consider the product-to-packaging ratio of items you tend to buy often and select the bigger container instead of buying several smaller ones over time. Bring your own glass container or mesh bags and buy grains, nuts, and other items in the bulk section.
8. Take action!
It is time to take action! Whenever you see plastic in nature, or in the streets, please collect it, put it in the bin or, even better, recycle it. Litter dropped on the street doesn’t stay there. Rainwater and wind carry plastic waste into streams and rivers and through drains. Drains lead to the ocean!
Careless and improper waste disposal is also a big contributor – illegal dumping of waste adds greatly to the plastic surge in our seas.
When I read these facts, I was at first in denial. After some time, my feelings went from resignation and deep sadness to embracing the need to take immediate action.
I have realised that living to 100 does not just involve my health and well being, but it is also about caring for our beautiful planet and our future generations. So in the future when I am 80 or 90 I can take my grandkids diving and show them how amazing our blue planet really is.
As I said before I hope this prompts you to take action, for you and our future generations.
Take care my friends, until next week!
Smart Living To 100.