After decades of ignoring plastic debris in our oceans and its effect on water, wildlife and humans, the situation seems to be getting out of control. What is there for us to do? The not so good news: There is no single solution to the plastic waste problem. Some slightly better news: Various possibilities exist or are about to be called into existence. Let’s have a look at some of those solutions.
In a previous post I have had a look at the so-called “problem domain” regarding the plastic pollution in our oceans.
What can we do to minimize, if not eradicate the long term impact to our complex planet Earth?
The main steps for a solution, at least as of today, seem to be:
1. do not use (and produce) plastic at all, or at least reduce consumption
2. clean up plastic wherever it can be found
3. stop plastic being spewed into oceans
4. clean up the oceans.
Steps 1-3 make up the “do not pollute the oceans at all” policy. Step 4 aims at cleaning up the mess we have already produced in our waters.
Do not use (and produce) plastic
Not using plastic at all seems to be difficult to manage. I won’t deny that it does have one or the other positive aspect. A dramatic reduction of consumption should, however, be possible. Also here the famous wording is more than true: every little bit helps.
We can re-use and bring our own bags, bottles and cups. We could also buy fruits from a market stand instead of a pre-packed counter. These are just two small examples of a list that could go on and on.
The less plastic we use, the less will (hopefully) be produced some time in the future as the need for it will not be existent any longer. Please try to use as little plastic wherever possible. And – this would be perfect – inspire others to do so as well.
Help clean up the mess
Whenever I walk or cycle around my hometown or in woods nearby I realise how much waste is being dropped without much care. With a little wind always being present, the lighter parts get immediately blown away into bushes, trees, small streams. And from there onto their journey towards the oceans.
The aim would be to avoid any plastic waste getting into the oceans at all. Cleaning up wherever it can be found would help immensely. And yes, I am well aware that it is a Herculean task. The usual is true: every little bit helps…
Luckily, lots of folks start thinking alike on this topic. Regular “cleanup days” give the slightest glimmer of hope. School classes spending a day in the woods, beach cleanups, city walks with volunteers collecting plastic and other garbage – simply great!
Stop the flow of plastic into the oceans
Picture this: 8 million metric tons of plastic flow into the oceans every year. How are we supposed to get them back out of the water again? Especially when lots of those parts have sunk to the bottom of the oceans? And the rest gets ground to microplastics, tiny bits and pieces?
In a recently published study by Dr. Jenna Jambeck it became clear that stopping the flow of plastic is one of the vital tasks in saving oceans. The top 20 countries spewing out waste account for 83% of all the mismanaged plastic waste entering our oceans every year.
This shows a possible solution for plastic pollution (albeit in the distant future). The main target is to increase waste management awareness especially in those countries – a very challenging task, but not impossible.
This information also confirms what has been known to mankind for quite a while: Don’t fight the symptom, fight the root cause. To clean up the oceans it looks like we need to find solutions on land first. Sounds like a plan, let’s go!
One of the ideas flying around is the so-called Plastic Bank. The basic idea behind this is to make plastic too valuable to throw it away. One of the aims is to take collected plastic and turn it into a usable feedstock for 3D printing – how cool is that?
I have not had a closer look at this potential solution, the very first impression sounds promising.
The Ocean Cleanup
One young chap looking at what kind of plastic debris is in our waters and wanting to get rid of it is Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup. He was not happy with other folks’ idea of “fishing” for plastic, so came up with quite an extraordinary new suggestion. Use the ocean’s movement to bring the plastic to special collecting stations, capture plastic only – not sea life – collect and get it out of the water. Afterwards, re-use it.
I will not go into too much detail on how this works, their website can explain that much better. The idea, however, I find excellent, and despite many critics saying it won’t work he has already produced a successful prototype.
Develop new types of plastic
In addition to reducing plastic consumption, cleaning up our environment as well as the oceans, a pretty cool solution would be the development of reliable plastic that actually dissolves without any toxic residues. It does already work for small and thin plastic layers (e.g. dish washer tablets). So, everyone, off you go into your think tanks.
Solutions for plastic pollution now also on political agenda
I was quite glad to have seen also the politicians now getting aware of this problem. The EU is about to introduce a ban or extra fee on plastic bags. Actions are introduced to minimize the flow into oceans worldwide. So we are starting to realise that this is a rather important topic. It is not the end of the story, though, but at least it is good to know.
Update February 2016
Lots of things are happening with regards to this topic. New initiatives get started, awarenes worldwide seems to be increasing (and not only the awareness, but also the understanding that “doing” is the right attitude). I will not update this article here but rather write new posts under the tag oceans. I do hope you will enjoy reading some of the posts and find them helpful in your search for information – and maybe also in your search for being able to help.
Links used for research (not only, but mainly):
Ocean Conservancy – article on how much plastic flows into the ocean
The Ocean Cleanup
FAZ – article