You, me and the sea: Is Ocean Plastic Pollution the ‘green issue’ you can most easily help solve?
We’re delighted to bring you a guest blog from one of our Ethical Globe directory members, Jess from Little Fishy Swim. In it, Jess – who lives in Australia – talks about ocean plastic pollution and what we can each do to make a difference.
Between floods, bushfires and the frightening statistics around global warming, it’s no wonder “eco-anxiety” is becoming a bit of a thing. So, without wanting to add fuel to the proverbial fire, UN World Ocean Day on 8th June highlighted that, man, we’ve got a major problem brewing out in the deep blue.
The Great Barrier Reef
Let’s start with the Great Barrier Reef, the greatest jewel in Australia’s natural crown. The WWF estimates that between pollution and global warming, it has lost over half of its coral cover in the past three decades. Even more horrifying is UNESCO’s prediction that, by 2100, over half of the marine species will have disappeared.
No wonder our oceans are the issue that seems to get eco-anxiety flowing here in Australia.
In fact, a 2021 study by Mobium found that the number one environmental concern plaguing us beach-loving Aussies is the state of our oceans. No wonder 77% of us support a ban on single-use plastics as soon as possible, according to the latest findings by Ipsos.
The stats concerning ocean plastic pollution are dire. It’s estimated more than eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year, 130,000 tonnes of which are from Australia alone. That’s the equivalent of a truck full of plastic rubbish dumped into the sea every minute.
Right now, there are 500 times more pieces of plastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way, and by 2050, there will be more plastic out there than there are fish.
The scale of the problem is mind-boggling!
Collective action against ocean plastic pollution
But before your eco-anxiety turns into a full-blown panic attack, let me be the bearer of more positive news.
The theme of this year’s World Ocean Day was Collective Action and that’s because, with a little cooperation, ocean plastic pollution may be one of the easier environmental problems we humans are able to solve.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. It’s definitely going to take us all making some changes, and at scale too. But they don’t have to be completely life-altering. You know, not like forsaking flying or driving, which is what it might take to solve carbon emissions, or coordinating the painstaking, yet mammoth and critically urgent task of bringing almost 200 sovereign nations onto the path to reducing global warming.
No, the solution here is potentially more straightforward.
It’s estimated that the average Australian uses 130kg of plastic per year. It’s a lot, and no, you probably can’t cut it all out that easily. But here’s the kicker: just 12% of that plastic is being recycled! C’mon Australia. For a country that apparently loves its oceans, we sure are pretty rubbish at sorting our rubbish.
And if you’re reading this blog outside of Australia (I know Ethical Globe has members from all over the world), it’s time to step up your plastic recycling too. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), just nine percent of the world’s plastic has ever been recycled!
Things you can do right now to reduce ocean plastic pollution
Below, I’ve put together a list of actions you can take immediately to keep more plastic from the world’s oceans:
1. Get wise to your local recycling options and use them
In Australia, this includes curbside recycling, but we also have other options. Please make use of the amazing RedCycle scheme at your local supermarket for soft plastics (before they go ahead and choke a turtle), and if you’ve got kids, check out the specialist toy recycling scheme via Terracycle that’s hosted at your local Big W.
Of course, recycling options will vary from one country to another, so you may need to reach out to your local government and community to find out what’s available nearby.
2. Look at how you can reduce your plastic use
The next crucial step is to look at plastic reduction. You don’t need to cut it all out here, but the key is longevity and “circularity”.
In other words, ditch the single-use plastics and choose plastic products that are either made of recycled waste or can be fully recycled at the end of their life, ideally both.
Plastic bags and single-use plastic bottles are two of the biggest and most harmful ocean pollutants. They trick turtles into thinking they’re lunch, trap fishes and crustaceans and break down into toxic microplastics that make their way up the food chain. They are to be avoided as far as is humanly possible. Invest in a tote and take it everywhere. Ditto a re-usable water bottle.
Plastic-free July is a great time to start reducing your plastic use because shops, schools, businesses and community groups may all be looking for ways to tackle plastic pollution during the campaign.
3. Research what your favourite brands are doing to reduce plastic pollution
As consumers, we have the purchasing power to let our favourite brands know that we want sustainable products.
Check the brands you support on their packaging. That online shopping polybag should be compostable or, at the very least, made of recycled plastic. Recycled cardboard is best and some clever brands have even managed to source packaging that dissolves when you’re done with it.
Share the plastic-free innovators with your friends and family, or write to plastic-heavy brands and tell them they need to do better.
If you get your groceries delivered, choose the paper bags or go bagless. It’s often as easy as checking a box.
If you shop in a supermarket, remember that tote. Probably several. And bring back those old plastic bags for use again or to put in the RedCycle scheme (or similar schemes where you live).
It really needn’t be hard – keep your bags in the back of the car or put a note on the fridge, whatever helps you remember.
4. Make your voice (and vote) count
It was great to see climate action motivate so many Australians at the ballot box this year. Hopefully, we’ll see similar trends throughout the world but if you care about the state of our oceans, don’t stop there.
Lend your support to legislation. Show policy-makers that you care about issues like single-use plastics, setting a meaningful target for net-zero, and creating more protected marine parks to help marine life thrive.
I know you’re busy but signing an online petition takes seconds, plus a few more to share. Many organizations even provide pre-written letters that you can digitally sign and have sent to your local representative. You can literally lobby parliament whilst watching MAFS these days. What a time to be alive!
5. Connect with your community
If you live near the sea or a waterway, why not connect with other locals and join a beach clean-up? Check in with your local branch of Sea Shepherd or Greenpeace AU to see if there’s one happening near you (or look for a similar organization in your area).
If you’re struggling for time, consider making Take 3 for the Sea part of your regular beach ritual. The mantra is simple: just leave the beach with three more bits of rubbish than you arrived with. I wish I could say this takes more than a few seconds, but if you live near a busy urban beach as I do, this is almost depressingly quick to do. And if we all did it, well, you get the picture…
6. Combine self-care with ocean care
When you’re back at home and rinsing the sand away, you can make ocean care and self-care one and the same with some easy swaps.
Microbeads are like the bigger, meaner cousins of micro-plastics and they’re found in far too many bath and shower products. Many countries (such as Canada, the UK and New Zealand) have actually taken the step to ban microbeads. Technically, they’re banned in Australia too but some imported products sneak through. Avoid them.
Using naturally-derived products will keep hazardous chemicals that can wreak havoc on marine life from our oceans. Check your products. Choose reef-safe sunscreen. It’s a thing, it definitely works and it avoids harmful chemicals washing into the ocean, replacing them with a physical sunscreen layer instead.
7. Plastic-free swaps for your laundry
Finally, let’s talk laundry.
Each time you launder your clothes, clothing fibers enter the marine environment through the wastewater that leaves your washing machine and enters our sewage system. Researchers have proposed that a single load of laundry has the potential to release hundreds of thousands of microfibres and remnants of chemical dyes into the water supply.
Unfortunately, these particles are too small for our waste management systems to filter.
Enter the micro-fibre capturing filter: there are plenty of products on the market that can either be used to wash your clothes (like micro-plastic capturing laundry bags) or fitted to your washing machine to snare some of these pesky particles before they head out to sea and poison the fishes. The bags, in particular, can be surprisingly affordable and are so easy to use.
So there you have it, a little collective action can go a long way when it comes to cleaning up our oceans. I don’t know about you but finding an environmental issue that I can actually do something meaningful to solve feels pretty good to me, and that’s something for us – and our oceans – to cheer about.
About the Author
Jessica Page is a mum-of-one and founder of Little Fishy Swim – an innovative kids’ swimwear & toy company based in Bondi Beach. With the aim of removing one million plastic bottles from the ocean by 2025, their adorable ocean-inspired swimwear and toys are made from recycled plastic bottles, with $1 per purchase returned to Australian ocean clean-up charities.
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