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How to stop plastics polluting our ocean


Mark J. Spalding

President of The Ocean Foundation

The plastics we use may end up in our global ocean, and we can all make a big difference to the sustainability of marine life with small, everyday lifestyle changes.

It’s an alarming statistic: approximately eight million metric tons of plastic waste enter our ocean every year. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, we live in a world where one million plastic bottles are bought every minute. And, it is all because plastic’s durability and light weight make it a wildly successful form of packaging.

Plastics that end up in the sea loosely fall into three categories:

  • Marine debris – bigger pieces of plastic that can be easily seen;
  • Microplastics – fragments of plastics that have broken off larger items;
  • Microfibres – from synthetic clothing that break away every time they are washed in a washing machine.

All are devastating to marine life.

We have to cut down our use of plastic

“Marine debris — such as derelict fishing gear — kills animals indiscriminately,” says Mark J. Spalding, President of The Ocean Foundation. Mark’s mission is to support and promote organisations that are dedicated to reversing the trend of the destruction of the world’s ocean environments. “Microplastics and microfibres can be ingested, causing tissue damage and affecting organ function.”

The fact is that anyone who uses plastics — which is the vast majority of us — is adding to an enormous environmental problem.

Sadly, for the plastic already in the sea, it may be too late as it is almost impossible to collect effectively, economically, or safely for marine life. The most proactive approach, now, is prevention; stopping more plastic entering the marine environment.

More and more people opt for plastic substitutes

“There is a global effort to get people to ask themselves when they should use plastic and when they shouldn’t,” says Spalding. “That’s encouraging. For example, we have perfectly reasonable substitutes, such as reusable cloth bags, which make the use of plastic bags absurd. On the other hand, for medical, sanitary reasons, a single-use plastic syringe is a brilliant way to stop the spread of disease.

“Plus, we are finally asking — a little late, unfortunately — which polymers in plastics are the most recyclable? And if putting ‘booms’ (filtering screens) at the mouths of rivers can prevent this stuff getting into the ocean in the first place.”

Your choices are important

Spalding emphasises that every little, consistent behaviour change helps. “People think they’re such a small cog in a big wheel that what they do individually doesn’t matter. But it does.

For instance, if every one of us stopped using single-use plastic bags and single-use plastic straws, it would make a gigantic difference to marine sustainability. Or if we have a choice between buying juice in a plastic bottle or a glass bottle, our main question ought to be: ‘Which one is most recyclable?’”

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