“As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.”
True or false: The above excerpt is the beginning of a futuristic novel about a post-apocalyptic world?
These words were written by Charles J. Moore, a man best known for discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—which is exactly what it sounds like. Moore was returning to Southern California after finishing a Los Angeles-to-Hawaii sailing race when he witnessed what some have deemed the world's largest landfill (Or should it be “sea-fill?”).
This "sea-fill" was created when the ocean's currents began to trap millions of pieces of plastic debris, turning it into a cloudy, plastic soup. YUCK! And it's only one of five plastic-filled ocean gyres—or systems of rotating ocean currents—in the world's seas!
What’s worse is that seabirds and other sea creatures mistake the brightly colored plastic bits for food. Plastic makes them feel full when they're not, so they starve to death and pass the toxins from the plastic up the foodchain. Wait, can’t humans be at the top of this food chain? YES!
So, how did the plastic get there? Watch the below 4-minute video to find out.
According to a study published in the journal Science, every year, about 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the world's oceans. That's equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline. Alarmingly, if actions aren't taken to prevent this type of pollution, that figure could increase ten-fold over the next 10 years. That's a lot of plastic!
Luckily for the world, some actions are being taken. While there's still a lot more the world can do to clean up this mess—and prevent it from getting even bigger—check out a few interesting initiatives that have popped up across the world.
1. WASTED: A neighborhood laboratory for plastic waste upcycling
This exciting new project is based in Amsterdam and encourages local residents to collect plastic that can be reprocessed and reused. The plastic is collected in bins and transported to a laboratory where a machine turns the plastic waste into small, modular building blocks. According to Co.Exist, these building blocks will be used to build things like park benches, temporary stages for music festivals, and planters—things that will remind the community just how much plastic they are using. There's even an incentive for participating in the project. Participants get WASTED coins for every bag of plastic they recycle, and the coins can be spent at local businesses. Pretty cool!
But, do you know what's cooler?
WASTED wants to achieve the same goals in other neighborhoods across the world, and you can help them do it! Anyone can use WASTED's open source kit for building their own lab.
Are you up for the challenge?
2. The Dream Machine: A new type of vending machine
While PepsiCo can definitely be seen as a contributor to the plastic bottle problem, the company is at least trying to come up with ways to minimize the negative impact of plastic bottle use. This is where The Dream Machine comes into play, a machine that's certainly making my dreams come true. This interactive kiosk makes it easy for students and college communities to recycle plastic bottles on the go, AND it hands out reward points that students can redeem for prizes.
3. A road paved with...plastic!
In 2012, Vancouver paved the way (pun intended) for cities to experiment with new types of asphalt. Vancouver was the first city in the world to use a wax made from recycled plastic containers in their asphalt, which they tested on a few roads. After a successful set of trials in 2012, paving projects using the new wax continued in 2013. Way to go, Canada!
You don't need to be part of a company or organization to take action. Here are two things you can do NOW to help keep the world’s oceans clean.
1. Cut disposable plastics out of your routine
Choose reusable items whenever you can, and limit your use of products that contain harmful microplastics.
Pro tip: Did you know that many personal care products contain toxic microbeads used as exfoliants? You can fight pollution by avoiding these products at all costs, and you can go one step further by helping to pass a national ban on microbeads.
When you need to use plastic, be sure that you recycle it after you've reused it. Each piece of plastic recycled is one less piece of waste that could end up in the ocean.
Global citizens, you don't have to live in a world where the oceans look like landfills and toxins end up on your plate. Do your part to help keep the world clean!