In the 1950s plastic created the “throwaway culture” and was praised for saving time and making people’s lives easier. Now, plastic is one of the worst things to happen to our planet. Our oceans and beaches are the worst hit locations. 90% of ocean pollution is plastic pollution. If we don’t change things, there will be, by weight, more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.
How Much Plastic Is in the Ocean?
Roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic finds its way into our oceans annually, of which 236,000 tons are microplastics. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, 5 millimetres (1/5 inch) maximum, that are either broken pieces of other plastics, or small bits found in cosmetics, often called microbeads. You may see larger pieces of plastic waste while walking along a beach, but these microplastics are easier to overlook. That being said, 15% of the sand on beaches of Hawaii’s Big Island is actually microplastic, not sand.
There are five plastic garbage patches floating in the ocean right now. They are gyres of marine debris particles, namely plastics, that have been trapped by the currents. The largest is the Great Pacific located in the north central Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. The Ocean Cleanup project estimated it covers 1.6 million square kilometers or twice the size of Texas!
Marine creatures are dying, often starving to death, because they mistakenly eat plastic rather than their food. Because this plastic is undigestible, their stomachs fill up until they can no longer eat real food. And even fish that don’t die from ingesting plastic often end up on our plates, meaning we then eat the microplastics!
Where Does Plastic Come From?
The plastic that finds its way into our oceans comes from active and passive littering. Active littering is exactly what it sounds like – people tossing their trash on the ground rather than in the garbage. Passive littering can happen when things that shouldn’t be are flushed down the toilet. The items go through the sewers and sometimes directly into rivers and other water sources, eventually making their way to the ocean.
In some Asian countries, rivers are even treated as the communal dumpsters. It can be hard for people to understand how waterways are linked and to understand the damage they are doing. Other people worldwide simply don’t care. But as more and more people are becoming aware of the problems, there are those beginning to do something about it.
What is Strawkling?
Strawkling is a new movement that combines the fun of snorkelling with removing trash from the ocean floor. Australian Harriet Spark launched Operation Straw at the end of 2017. She often dives around Manley Cave, Sydney, and notice hundreds of plastic straws on her dives. She decided to start collecting straws and other plastic that she found while snorkelling. Last summer, groups of strawklers collected over 2,500 straws in the Manley Cove area alone. Single-use plastic straws are by far what they have found the most of, and these can take over 500 years to decompose and cannot be recycled!
Stop using straws! If you must use one, use a paper or metal straw.
Use a reusable shopping bag. Single-use plastic bags often fall apart easily and are one of the most often-found plastic trash around the world, including in sea creatures’ stomachs. Many cities and countries around the world have stopped giving out plastic bags for free or all-together. Using your own carryall is a good start, but you can also go a step further and bring reusable produce bags.
Stop purchasing bottled water. Use a refillable bottle instead!
Take a thermos with you for your coffee.
Switch from products in plastic containers to those in cardboard. At least cardboard biodegrades easier.
Avoid using personal hygiene items with polypropylene or polyethylene in them. These microplastics are impossible to filter for now.
If you have a baby, switch to cloth diapers from disposables.
Switch to menstrual cups and washable pads.
Use glass containers instead of plastics for storing and transporting your lunch.
Where Can You Help Clean the Beaches and Oceans?
In Australia, Operation Straw holds monthly Strawkles at Manly Cove. Check out their website for more information of upcoming events. And after you’ve had a successful Strawkle, having fun and helping the environment at the same time, relax by playing at your favorite online casino on the couch. If you’re in the Caribbean, check out 4Ocean as they clean up Haiti in particular, but also the US and Bali. The Break Free from Plastic movement began in 2016 and now has over 1300 organizations across the globe, each constantly organizing clean-ups and actions to reduce plastic use. So what are you waiting for?