A Global Problem
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, humankind has produced more plastic in the last decade than that in all of history until the year 2000. In our quest for “convenience”, we didn’t stop to think about our future or the planet on which we depend. The problem with plastic is that it is an extremely durable material, so much so, that every piece of it ever made is still around today. That means tons and tons of it.
The ocean plastic problem is not limited to certain locations. This problem knows no borders and, when it enters the oceans, it eventually gets trapped in a specific type of current called a gyre, which helps it accumulate in garbage patches, the most famous being The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These patches are not only composed of big pieces of trash, but plastics can also be eroded intro very small units called microplastics, which are just as harmful as their bigger counterparts.
No matter where we are or if we live far or close to the coast, we must remember that an enormous amount of our trash ends up in the ocean, damaging entire ecosystems and killing millions of animals each year. The solution to this problem lies in every one of us. Our individual actions can drive policy change and can definitely make a difference. If you love the beaches of Maui, do your part to keep plastics out of the ocean
Changing our Habits
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s extremely easy to slow down and reflect on our actions. Convenience lies at the heart of today’s society and most of us don’t even have time to think about the consequences it brings. Thankfully, we are starting to wake up and realize our ways of living are not necessarily sustainable. If we want a future for ourselves and our children, we must act now.
We have also begun to see the immediate impact our own actions have on ourselves. We are now more aware that the consequences come not in a matter of thousands of years, but in a matter of months. We have started to notice ocean plastic in the form of microplastics in our own seafood, which I don’t think anyone would be too happy about, and the patches are now so big they are hard to ignore. Our small changes have begun to make a difference in some places in the form of bans on plastic bags, straws, bottles, and similar initiatives. However, although this is a good start, it is certainly not enough. We can bring back some of the old ways of doing things. Using bulk ingredients in reusable containers are simple, yet very effective, habits that would have a huge impact if adopted by most of us. The only effort it takes is trying not to forget about it, nothing more.
Misinformation is also a great enemy. Not knowing what we are buying could have a huge negative impact on the environment. Our consumer habits are not ill-intentioned, but they may be making our ocean plastic problem bigger and bigger without us realizing it. For instance, synthetic textiles are one of the greatest sources of plastic pollution in the oceans. When washing our clothes, millions of microplastics are released in waterways that eventually lead to rivers and oceans. This is not the only example. There are hundreds of harmful daily habits and products that could be solved with just a simple swap. These consumer behaviors as simple as avoiding this type of garments, or picking a bamboo toothbrush and a glass container, could go a long way. On the individual level, it really just comes down to educated, daily consumer habits to put our grain of sand.
Advocating for International Policy
As mentioned earlier, this is a global problem. Failing to work collaboratively could potentially hinder the effort of responsible countries. Nowadays, plastic pollution is not only an environmental problem, it has become so widespread, that it now represents a threat to food and health security. So, on a larger scale by demanding better policies against plastic pollution, we’re also demanding policies that protect our health and wellbeing and that of every human being around the world.
Right now, many policies and regulations are shifting toward recycling. This is a great step, but there are still 300 million tons of plastic being produced around the world every year, so recycling alone can’t keep up with this. There needs to be an international effort to halt the production of single-use plastics. Enforcing this on a federal or international level would put pressure on industries using them. If they are not completely necessary, why should they even exist?
You may think your actions as an individual are too small to impact international policy, but this is not true. Advocating and supporting research institutions and organizations that fight against this problem is an excellent way to start. The power for these institutions to drive change lies in individuals like you and me who are willing to stand behind them. Organizations like The Ocean Cleanup, The UN Environment Program (UNEP), and Plastic Pollution Coalition are some international NGOs fighting for laws and regulations against plastic pollution. More local initiatives are also a great way to set an example for other regions and have a huge impact in the long run, so supporting government petitions like the Clean Water Act in the US, are other ways to ignite consciousness.
Supporting Plastic-Free Efforts
No matter where you live, the ocean and its state ultimately affect every single human being on the planet, so its plastic problem is, witFightihout a doubt, one of the greatest environmental crises of our time. Changing individual consumer behaviors has a great potential impact and can lead to more change by setting an example in families or communities. But for those who feel more needs to be done, there is also the option of supporting initiatives and organizations, whether local or international, that are always looking for help. Organizations like Parley, 4Ocean, and Ghost Diving are just some of the reliable organizations out there getting their hands dirty for the wellbeing of the oceans and ourselves. Choosing which organization to support ultimately depends on every person’s preference, but it’s important to sit down and do some research to make sure your efforts pay off!