Happy World Ocean Day, or should I say Un-Happy World Ocean Day?
We know less about the ocean than we do about outer space. Yet it holds 95% of the life on earth under its surface. At its widest point, from Indonesia all the way to Colombia, the Pacific Ocean is wider than the moon. Scientists estimate that 91 percent of ocean species have yet to be classified. We are less likely to be able to discover incredible life under the sea soon as we all know there is one huge elephant in the room. It comes in the shape of plastic bottle, bag and boxes.
Many will have heard recently as Victor Vescovo broke the record breaking deepest ever dive he surfaced with the tragic news of our how deeply entrenched (pun intended) this problem really is. At the bottom of the Mariana Trench (seven miles under the surface) a plastic bag and sweet wrappers were found. Plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our oceans. Many people do not know there are five large ‘trash bergs’ currently floating in our oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of the offshore plastic accumulation zones. It is located halfway between Hawaii and California and covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers! An area three times the size of France. A total of 1.8 trillion plastic pieces were estimated to be floating in the patch – a plastic count that is equivalent to 250 pieces of debris for every human in the world. If that isn’t enough to shake you I don’t know what will.
Although 46% of the total mass is made of fishing nets. Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes and those that are smaller than five millimeters (or about the size of a sesame seed) are called microplastics. They pass unchanged through waterways into the ocean. Aquatic life and birds mistake microplastics for food and these plastics are now landing back in people’s homes onto their dinner plate. The combination of floating plastic, sunken plastic and almost invisible plastic is causing serious harm to aquatic life and the future of our oceans.
So for us this really is an unhappy World Ocean Day. We should be celebrating the beauty and awe of the ocean, the life and knowledge it can provide our future generations. But we are in a crisis and we need to do something now.
What can you do?
Now, we are sure you’re not out there throwing fishing nets in the sea and running away akin to ‘knock down ginger’, and we understand the problem which is mammoth compared to the scope you have as an individual. BUT everyone can do their bit to reduce the problem even if we can’t reverse it.
Here are ten easy ways to reduce your single-use plastic habits;
- Buy big. Bulk buying will reduce costs for you, production of packaging, and transport emissions. You can also keep single-use plastic containers and decant the larger for easy use around the home.
- Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags, avoid clingfilm and sandwich bags. Workers spend on average £2,500 on coffees, breakfasts and lunches. With that comes a huge amount of packaging and waste. Plan your meals, use reusable containers and coffee cups. You’ll save money too.
- In the same vain, opt for fresh fruits and veggies and cut them up at home, buy bulk items like nuts instead of to-go products that come pre-sliced and packaged in plastic bags/pots.
- Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic. Plus you’ll be eating fewer processed foods!
- Give up gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, aka plastic. It does not biodegrade! It also loses flavour quickly and is likely to stay on earth longer than you! Get some mints in a tin box to keep your breath fresh. You can reuse the tin afterwards or recycle it.
- Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor. There are bamboo and metal options which you may have to fork out for at first but will pay for themselves after a while.
- Use shampoo bars, conditioner bars and soap bars instead of plastic bottled items with sometimes harmful chemicals and worse can have microbeads which get digested by marine life.
- Avoid clothes shopping online. Every item is wrapped in plastic of which the majority is not recyclable. The bags with either go in landfill or find their way to our oceans. Shop in store or in charity shops.
- Take care of what you own. Replacing broken belongings come with a price tag, the majority of us would opt for a quick fix which are a) usually heavily complied of plastic, and b) more likely to break. Look after your possessions to avoid adding to landfills and chance entering the oceans.
- Buy clothes made of natural fabrics, clothes made of nylon, polyester and acrylic. Every time these materials are washed they shed millions of plastic microfibres. Threads so small they can drain out of our washing machines and pass straight through wastewater treatment plants into the sea. There are items like Guppyfriend which reduce fibre shedding.
The oceans are big, blue and beautiful. Please do you best to protect them and think twice before using single-use plastic products. Today is not a very happy World Ocean Day, but we can turn the tide if we all make a small effort to change the way we act today for our ocean’s future.
Grace works for a School Improvement Partnership and is our resident ocean lover. Having worked as a scuba instructor in Indonesia she has picked up her fair share of ocean plastic. Her favourite eco product is Oliva Olive Oil Soap.