For more than a year, Karen Jenner has visited Nova Scotia’s beaches two or three times a week. But the Canadian’s visits to the Bay of Fundy haven’t all been for fun. Jenner has been on the hunt — for plastic.
Within a year, she has collected more than 2,200 kilograms (about two metric tons) of trash left behind after enormous tides, including plastic bottles and fishing-related waste like lobster bands and ropes, CBC reported.
"It's a drip in the bucket," Jenner told CBC. "There could be 100 of me out doing this, and yet the trash would still be coming in. There's just so much in the water."
Though Jenner is just one person, her effort is helping to address a global issue that has only worsened over the years: plastic pollution. At least 8 to 13 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year — that’s the equivalent of about one garbage truck every minute. And plastic makes up 73% of the garbage on beaches, according to a report by National Geographic.
Many marine creatures, unable to distinguish between food and plastic, are killed each year as a result of accidentally ingesting waste. Even if animals do not intentionally consume plastic waste, plastic in the ocean breaks down into small particles, called microplastics, that marine life may inadvertently ingest. The plastic waste, which often contains toxins, accumulates in their digestive systems, clogging their organs. Many marine animals also end up entangled or trapped in nets and plastic.
Animal species including sea turtles, sea lions, seabirds, dolphins, and whales are increasingly becoming victims of rising ocean pollution.
“This isn’t a problem where we don’t know what the solution is,” Ted Siegler, a Vermont resource economist, working with developing nations to find garbage disposal solutions, told National Geographic. “We know how to pick up garbage. Anyone can do it. We know how to dispose of it. We know how to recycle.”
“It’s a matter of building the necessary institutions and systems … ideally before the ocean turns, irretrievably and for centuries to come, into a thin soup of plastic.”
Activists like Jenner are single-handedly working to protect oceans from plastic, but to really tackle the problem, a much larger effort is needed. That’s why Jenner likes to photograph and document the trash she collects on her Facebook page. Jenner believes the photo posts help people understand the scale of the issue.
"If people aren't aware of a problem, it's hard for them to relate to it. When people think about plastic and problems with plastic, we tend to think about places other than Nova Scotia, but we have a plastic problem here," Jenner said.
Residents across the nation are taking responsibility and uniting to fight the issue. The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, an initiative that helps collect and dispose waste, has helped collect 1.2 million kilograms of waste over 19,000 clean up events with 70,000 volunteers.
"What's been neat about it is that other people are going to the beach now and picking things up, and that's nice to see," Jenner said.
"You don't need to go and come back with 100 pounds, or 100 things. All you need to do is, if you see something where it shouldn't be, pick it up, and anybody can do that."