Why Ocean Plastic affects us all - 5 things you can do to make a difference
Unfortunately, despite the increasing attention and awareness of many people about it, ocean plastic is still a very big problem. We all love to spend our well-deserved time off traveling by the sea and forgetting the stress of everyday life. Beach clean-ups help to keep the beaches clean and protect a piece of the animals’ habitat… but from our lounger on the beach, we can’t see what’s floating under the surface or further out in the ocean. Also, many are still unaware of the real impact ocean plastic has and how they can make a difference even with small things. In this article, we would like to support you so that we can enjoy our beautiful oceans together with nature and animals for many years to come.
Top questions answered to help you understand the problem more clearly
Why is ocean plastic pollution a problem?
To understand why ocean plastic is a problem, we first need to know how much plastic is in the ocean. We are currently throwing more than 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean – every year! We live in a society where such numbers are sometimes hard to grasp, so imagine that every minute of the day a truck dumps a load full of plastic into the ocean. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Add to that the fact that the earth is not called “the blue planet” for nothing. Over 70% of the earth is covered with water. So we are polluting the largest habitat on our planet at breathtaking speed.
But now we still don’t know why it is a problem that we “store” our garbage in the ocean. For this, we actually need only one more piece of information, with which we can then set up a simple rule of three. Believe it or not, almost every piece of plastic ever produced by humans still exists today! Of course, you can also burn it… but that leads to completely different problems for our environment. There is still no sustainable way to deal with plastic. It will probably take several centuries for plastic to decompose in the ocean.
Now we see two numbers growing strongly – the plastic consumption of us humans and the plastic that ends up in the ocean, whereas one number is barely moving, the total amount of plastic in the world. So we have to find a solution together to deal with plastic in a sustainable way.
How does ocean plastic affect humans?
Before we talk about us humans, we would like to briefly show how brutally it has already hit the habitat of animals. Millions of seabirds and 100,000 other marine animals are already dying every year because of ocean plastic. And those that do not die directly are infected with toxins that severely reduce their quality of life. Whole plastic islands have formed, which additionally destroy the natural habitat of the marine animals. And exactly here lies a very big problem for humans. Large parts of our food chain live in or are of course also related to the oceans. So we end up eating our own garbage and the toxins created from it. Everyone knows the saying: “You are what you eat”.
Which ocean has the most plastic?
There is a large amount of plastic in each of our 5 oceans. The largest amount even has its own name “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch“. It’s in the north-central Pacific Ocean and it’s really huge. According to current calculations, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone is larger than a large number of countries in the world.
Where is all the ocean plastic coming from?
It was first noticed around 1990. Most of the plastic came from countries around the Pacific Rim (this includes, for example, Asia and North and South America). However, the majority came from China and other Asian countries. That’s why there is a lot of research going on there these days to find a solution. However, this is not about finger pointing. We have all played our part in ensuring that the situation is currently as it is. It is worth mentioning that China has recently issued a ban on importing plastic waste from other countries. Before that, China imported about 45% of the world’s plastic and tried to recycle it (so it’s not surprising that a lot of the plastic is there…). Now the big question is, what happens to all the plastic waste when China stops taking it? Some will have to be distributed to other countries. However, few countries currently have the infrastructure to deal with this amount of plastic. Therefore, China’s ban on plastic waste will not necessarily reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. Every day we wait, it also becomes more difficult to get the plastic out of the oceans. The sun’s rays, for example, cause the plastic to break down into smaller and smaller pieces (so-called microplastics). This microplastic never decomposes. This can be very fatal. So we must all try to do our part to prevent more plastic from entering the oceans.
1. Know your everyday products and look for alternatives
Unfortunately, plastic is in many products and almost unthinkable from our everyday life. But that is no reason to hang our heads. Did you know, for example, that there are 7 different types of plastic that are used to make a wide variety of things? Each of these 7 types has its own advantages and disadvantages. So if you know a little more about it, you might be able to make a more conscious decision the next time you go shopping, and you won’t have to limit yourself in any way. So let’s move on to the different kinds of unpopular yet seemingly indispensable plastic that so pollutes our world.
To keep it simple – there are 7 different codes. The codes 2, 4 and 5 are the “better” ones. The examples below refer to the different packaging of the groceries/items.
Contains: PET, PETE or polyester
Examples: Bottles of water, Beer, Mouthwash, Jam,…
Examples: Milk, Shampoo, Juice and Water, Medicine bottles,…
Contains: V, Vinyl or PVC
Examples: Toys, Packaging, Shampoo, Oil jars,…
Examples: Frozen food, Bags for grocery, bread, film applications,…
Examples: Yoghurt, Syrups, Bottle caps, Baby bottles,…
Examples: Food packaging, Egg cartons, disposable cutlery, medicine bottles,…
Contains: PC or O (other)
Examples: CDs, DVDs, Watter bottles, Cups, Ketchup,…
There are definitely alternatives with all products. So it may be better to buy a shampoo from the Code 2 group instead of Code 3. But this is only a small insight. If you are interested in the topic, feel free to write in the comments and we will prepare more articles from this area 🙂
2. Recycle! It's not as easy as you think
Unfortunately, we are very bad at recycling… Did you know that not even all of the above 7 different types of plastic are recyclable? This currently results in a sad fact – less than 14% of plastic packaging is recycled. Recycling is, in theory, a powerful weapon against marine pollution. In a perfect world, it would help keep plastic out of the oceans and reduce the amount of “new” plastic. Imagine if at some point we produced enough plastic and were able to use it in a closed-loop system to recycle it.
To get an idea of how much plastic we buy just by shopping at the supermarket, here are 3 examples.
- Package of cheese (approx. 30g plastic)
- Package of ham ( approx. 21g plastic)
- Box of chocolates (approx. 54g plastic)
This already shows how fast you can reach several 100g of plastic or even kilos with weekly shopping.
A large part of this plastic is unfortunately not recyclable. But here it is often still missing alternatives. So-called “unpackaged” stores are not yet available in every city. So what can we do to recycle more and more consciously?
There are 2 simple solutions that everyone can do.
1) Pay more attention to the packaging material when shopping and also look more closely at the types of plastic ( code 1 to 7). It may even be healthier to switch to a product with less or different packaging. The easiest way to start is to take your own bag with you when you go shopping and to avoid plastic bags for fruit & vegetables etc.
2) When buying new products, pay attention to the manufacture and components. The best-known example is probably the water bottle that you put in your mouth every day and is made of toxic plastic. Again, we recommend that you pay special attention to the different types of plastic. In this way, you not only live healthier but also make a small contribution to the fight against plastic pollution.
Meanwhile, countless companies recycle plastic and produce new sustainable products from it. The majority of these companies are also strongly committed to combating plastic pollution of the oceans. So you not only buy products that are made from recycled plastic but also with each purchase you support campaigns and people who actively free our oceans from marine plastic.
A good example of such a company is GOT BAG. You get high-quality products made from marine plastic and at the same time support the fishermen in Indonesia who fish the marine plastic directly from the oceans.
We especially love their roll-top backpack. Not only is it very comfortable and strong... but also offers a lot of space, allowing you to collect some plastic from the beach if you spot it on a nice walk 🙂
3. Get a little more active - Participate in bans and stay informed
Since the 21st century, there is a stronger awareness and a global movement trying to stop plastic pollution. One of the most far-reaching initiatives is the banning of free plastic bags from supermarkets. Since then there have been many other methods and campaigns. Most of them are either strict bans on certain products or extra costs on these kinds of products. It even goes so far that some countries, such as China, completely ban the import of plastic from other countries. Such bans can make a difference at the country level but also already at the community level. Even if a ban is not always achieved, it is still a valuable step in the right direction to deal with issues and think about them. This is the only way to find a common path that can be realized in the long term.
4. Support Clean Ups or join in one yourself
I’m sure you’ve heard of Ocean Cleanups before. If not, the name says it all – there are now many organizations and people who have joined forces with the goal of ridding our oceans of plastic. This is not an easy task, because we all know how big the oceans are. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch described above would take thousands of years to remove from the ocean with vessels and nets. But don’t let that discourage you, every contribution, no matter how small, is valuable. Maybe just pick up a straw you see on the beach and take it to the nearest trash can. You could save the life of a marine animal.
The 2 most popular types of cleanups are beach cleanups and ocean cleanups. Beach Cleanups are a worldwide effort to clean up beaches of plastic trash. Ocean Cleanups go out to sea and collect plastic waste directly from the ocean. This also characterizes GOT BAG. Many companies currently want to jump on the sustainability train and advertise with products made from marine plastic. If you want to buy such products, we think that’s great! If you read a little more about the companies, you will also notice some differences between them. We love companies that not only sell their products but also take action themselves! Theoceancleanup is also very active in this area and has set itself the goal of reducing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by more than 50% by 2030. It’s an exciting approach and we hope they succeed. In addition, of course, there are many other organizations that are all doing really great work together. Thank you so much for your efforts!
5. Spread the word!
Nothing can make a bigger difference than people who permanently change your lifestyle out of conviction. If you have gathered enough information yourself and found a way to make a difference with little things – feel free to tell others about it. Often they will automatically ask when they see that you are changing your habits slightly. But don’t force it on them – everyone is different and that’s a good thing 🙂 We hope that with this little article we could provide some food for thought or even answer some initial questions. If you have further questions or want to give feedback, feel free to write in the comments.
We are looking forward to the next vacation and of course, swimming in the ocean is part of it. Hopefully soon a less polluted ocean 🙂
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