Cutting Out Plastic on World Oceans Day

June 8th is World Oceans Day and it gives us all an opportunity to recognise the importance of our oceans and how we can make them better and more healthier environments.

Global oceans are vital for our survival. 70% of this planet is water – hence the nickname ‘Blue Planet’ – and our oceans are responsible for producing 70% of the oxygen that we breathe in. Ensuring strong ocean health is incredibly important but unfortunately not something that is taken anywhere near as serious as it needs to be.

Our oceans are choking on the pollution we carelessly create and dispose of. The heartbreaking images of marine animals caught up in fishing nets or consuming plastic thinking its food are all awful to see but it only touches the surface of the problem of plastic in our oceans.

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It may not be the theme of this year’s World Ocean Day but it’s something that I have become incredibly passionate about. Every piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists and it’s killing our oceans and marine life. In the Pacific Ocean there is an area three times the size of France that is just a mass of trash and plastic pollution. Ocean currents are picking up more and more plastic that is just increasing the size of it.

Whilst a large majority of the plastic waste littering our oceans is from the fishing industry, our addiction to single-use plastics and plastic packaging for just about anything also plays a huge role and is something that we can take a much greater role in reducing. So given that it is World Oceans Day today and Surfers Against Sewage recently released research into plastic pollution in the UK, it seems right to look further into the importance of our oceans as well as start to name and shame the worst polluters and look at how we can better care for our oceans.

Ocean Importance

It may be difficult to imagine, but oceans play a much larger role in our lives than you can imagine. We are all aware of the ability of trees to absorb carbon dioxide and expel oxygen for us to breathe. Oceans actually do exactly the same. Oceans act as a carbon sink; absorbing carbon dioxide that sinks to great depths and releasing oxygen.

One way this is done is by the Prochlorococcus bacteria that live extensively in oceans. They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, contributing to around 10% of all oxygen – in other words, they are vital for oxygen production.

According to an article by Macquarie University in Australia, however, their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen can be severely affected by chemicals that leach out from plastic pollution breaking down in ocean waters. The problem of plastic pollution goes well beyond what we can see – it will have major impacts on the oceans ability to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen for us to breathe.

So it’s time to name and shame. Who are the worst offenders of plastic pollution?

Naming and Shaming

International brands like Coca Cola, Unilever and Nestle have all been huge contributors to the plastic waste problem. Plastics offer a cheap and practical solution to companies to package their product before selling it on to the consumers. What happens next though? We’ve enjoyed their product but are now left with the plastic waste – there’s no accountability to the company that produced the plastic waste.

New research carried out by Surfers Against Sewage has put the spotlight on the amount of waste produced by national and international brands.

Beach clean groups carried out 229 beach cleans across the UK, resulting in the collection of 49,413 items being collected and sorted. This data was then analysed by an independent environmental consultancy to produce the results shown below.

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More than 25% of litter collected was produced by Coca Cola or PepsiCo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That data can be broken down even further in order to get an idea of how certain brands owned by these parent companies impact the amount of waste collected.

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For the likes of Coca Cola, Pepsi, Cadbury, McDonalds and Nestle it paints a very bad picture. The five parent companies combined count for almost half of all the waste that was collected during the beach cleans by Surfers Against Sewage.

What Needs to be Done?

We need to move away from plastic. Urgently.

Companies like Coca Cola and PepsiCo need to rethink their product packaging to more environmentally friendly options or provide consumers with the ability to buy plastic-free options. The results above show what was collected on UK beaches which relative to beaches around the world are quite clean. Doing more research on beaches in developing countries where plastic pollution on beaches is a much greater issue would likely produce even worse results.

It’s these corporations that need to change their packaging but there is still plenty we can do to pressure them to look to more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Avoiding products that continue to use plastic is a good start and will encourage brands to take a more environmental approach. It’s all about supply and demand;  if demand drops because of the excessive use of plastic, companies will take a more environmental approach and cut down on plastic.

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Until drastic changes to the way we package food products are made, plastic will continue to be around and continue to litter our oceans, natural environments and cities. We must all play our part in reducing the amount of plastic waste we consume and stop adding to the billions of tonnes that are floating in ocean waters. Just small changes at home can have a huge impact on the plastic pollution problem we face. And if doing that at home isn’t enough then get to your closest beach or area of countryside and start a litter pick!

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  1. What makes you think that an alternative material will have a lower impact? The problem isn’t plastic, it’s on the go culture, it’s convenience food and it’s ultimately lack of education!!! People tossed their trash in the environment and you blame plastics? No cans collected in the study? The paint on those cans are polymers. Do you realize the environmental impacts of making other materials? Have you ever heard about LCA? So poor… unbelievable.

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    1. There are many materials with a lower impact, just more costly to produce in comparison to plastic. The problem absolutely is plastic. The modern day life is on the go and changing that is impossible, so we look to how can we make our on the go lifestyles better on the environment. Plastic does not just disappear. It breaks down into tiny particles that scientists have recently found in the human body. What impact that has on us is still unknown.

      Many people, including myself for a very long time, think that using plastic and recycling it is doing the right thing to do. What we were unaware of is that a huge majority of our plastic waste is shipped off to China (until the start of 2018) and other south-east Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where rules on recycling are much less stringent and a lot of plastic we thought was being recycled often ends up in the ocean. Maybe that’s a lack of education but the common denominator in all of that is plastic.

      I am well aware of LCAs. Take reusable water bottles as an example. More energy is required to produce one in comparison to a single plastic water bottle, but over it’s lifetime and the impacts that it has on the environment the impact is much smaller. It’s also an example of how we are adapting to a more environmentally-conscious on the go lifestyle. In London and around the UK there are free water bottle refill points to encourage people to carry a reusable water bottle, even with their on the go lifestyle.

      The real fact of the matter is that whatever we do will have impacts on the environment. Unless we go back to living in caves and hunting/foraging for food – which we will still have a huge ecological impact. What we must do is take the path of least environmental damage.

      Thank you for your comment, however. Think Sustainability is just my opinion based on research and data that I have read – which unfortunately isn’t everything, so any aspect of waste that I haven’t considered but that you have mentioned above is more research I can do to create a much more informed opinion that I can share with those who read my blog.

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  2. The irony of human civilization: drowning in our own waste.

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  3. This is a very useful and enlightening post on the deep negative impact of our careless habits on the environment. I am deeply thankful that there are people like you who have taken it upon themselves to spread the word. A majority of humans are simply ignorant on the chaos resulting from our use of plastics on our environment. Please keep up the good work, it’s more than needed and deeply appreciated.

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  4. […] via Cutting Out Plastic on World Oceans Day — Think Sustainability […]

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