Actions to Help the Ocean from Chocking on Plastic Soup
Published on: 29.06.2021
About 30 years ago, a shipping container with 28,000 – 29,000 bath duck toys fell overboard and went lost at sea on its way from Hong Kong to the United States. Facts say they are still floating and many washed on the coasts of Australia, Alaska, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, Ireland, Scotland, and some were found frozen in the Arctic Sea.
The case of the rubber ducks, known as the Friendly Floatees, whose destiny was to float on the big ocean instead of bathroom tubs helped oceanographers understand a lot about ocean currents. Eventually, it shed light on plastic pollution and marine debris. Oceanographers knew that there was a gyre, a circulating current, in the North Pacific. It is one of the five main oceanic gyres and at the same time, it’s the largest ecosystem on Earth. What oceanographers didn’t know was the speed of the gyre and how long it took to complete one loop. The Friendly Floatees helped answer this question, around three to four years.
It’s no coincidence that the gyre is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The rubber ducks make the only ‘cute’ aspects of this issue. Anything else related to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is alarming.
Even though the patch is the largest accumulation of marine plastic in the world (three times the size of France), it’s not the floating island that many might imagine. It mostly consists of floating microplastics and metaplastic also labeled as Plastic Soup by Captain Charles Moore.
Some of it has been floating for over 50 years. It just breaks down into smaller parts due to sun exposure and temperature changes because it cannot biodegrade. It is estimated that only one percent of plastic soup float on the ocean surface. The remaining floats deeper, or sinks to the ocean floor.
Besides the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there are four other major plastic patches across the world’s oceans.
How does plastic end up in the ocean?
Even though it seems hard to imagine that the plastic we buy or have at home will make its way into the ocean, the chances that it ends up as marine litter are high. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), these are the main ways how plastic waste enters the ocean.
Plastic that is thrown in the bin instead of being recycled often blows away from landfills because it’s a lightweight material. Eventually windblown plastic clutters around drains, being carried into rivers and then into the ocean.
Littering is a main contributor to marine plastic. Rainwater and wind carry the plastic waste into drains that lead to the sea.
Direct littering or improper waste disposal contributes too. Directly dumping garbage into the rivers or oceans is a common practice across the globe. According to Our World in Data, 1,656 rivers, large and small, contribute 80 percent of plastic inputs to the ocean.
Wastewater and products that go down the drain
Hundreds of trillions of microbeads go down the drain every day. Microbeads are those tiny colorful plastic bits used in soaps, body shampoos, scrubs, toothpaste, hand sanitizers, and other personal care and cosmetic products. Other plastics that are flushed into wastewater systems are sanitary products, cotton buds, wet wipes, face masks, sheet masks, etc.
Moreover, washing polyester and synthetic clothes releases microplastics into wastewater.
Wastewater treatment systems cannot detect microplastics and microbeads. On the other hand, it would be too expensive to design systems that can and no one can prove their efficiency.
In this case, like in the others above the solution is on us.
What to do at home?
Ditch single-use plastic such as coffee cups, water bottles, plastic cutlery, straws.
Use tea strainers instead of tea bags packaged in plastic.
Ditch the cling film.
Avoid using cosmetic, personal care, or home care products that contain microbeads.
Use cloth bags when shopping.
Reduce chewing gum or recycle it properly.
Use glass or steel containers instead of plastic Tupperware.
Use wooden pegs instead of plastic pegs when hanging out clothes, photos, or decorations.
Buy boxes instead of bottles when shopping for laundry detergent.
Bring your container for takeout
What are innovators doing?
Many people are innovating in different ways to tackle the plastic pollution problem.
Here are some examples:
Made of Air. This is a Berlin-based carbon-negative materials company that takes low-value food waste and transforms it into high-value, carbon-negative thermoplastics. The solution offered by the company is considered as a groundbreaking innovation with a great societal impact that fulfills the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and stands as a robust business model.
Vanillin from used plastic bottles. Microbial synthesis of vanillin from plastic waste. Joanna Sadler and her team from the University of Edinburg have developed a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical. Stephen Wallace, also of the University of Edinburgh, said for the Guardian: “Our work challenges the perception of plastic being a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon resource from which high-value products can be made.”
S’wheat bottles. S’wheat is the world’s first reusable bottle made from plants. It was developed by Jake Elliot Hook with the mission to protect oceans from plastic pollution. The bottle is made from bamboo and wheat straws, while the company uses its profits to remove plastics from the ocean.
Do you find these stories inspirational? Would you like to learn how to challenge perceptions on problems and challenges and come out with innovative solutions?
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