Published on July 2nd, 2018 | by TerraCycle
There’s an Ocean of Opportunity to Protect our Oceans and Shorelines
The world’s oceans make up 71 percent of Earth’s surface area, and account for 97 percent of the planet’s water. As science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.” Yet, this increasingly threatened biome has been often out-of-sight and out-of-mind for many of us, falling outside the scope of focus for environmental protection and resource conservation.
To educate, engage and change behavior to make all world citizens caretakers of our oceans, “Ending plastic pollution” was the theme this World Oceans Day, as it was this year’s World Environment Day and Earth Day (and Earth Month), encouraging worldwide awareness and action. Staying with this theme, #PlasticFreeJuly kicks off this month with Clean Beaches Week (July 1-7), celebrated annually as the “earth day” for beaches in the United States.
An issue that’s been around as long as plastic has been a part of our everyday lives, the concept of “plastic pollution” is finally finding itself at the front of common lexicon—what it is, how it affects us and how we can prevent it.
A sort of visual poster-child for ocean plastic pollution, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is an accumulation of ocean plastic between Hawaii and California in the North Pacific enveloping an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers. Twice the size of Texas, this conglomerate of plastic waste is nebulous; since this pollution degrades into microplastics, this garbage patch is more of a soup seeping into every corner of the ocean than a mass of plastics swirling in one spot.
We could live to see plastic debris outnumbering fish in oceans as soon as 2050. If that projection doesn’t sound dystopian enough, plastics are currently suffocating marine life through entanglement, bioaccumulated plastics throughout the food chain percolating into human food and water supplies in a world that already incurs $13 billion USD in damages to coastal tourism and fisheries.
It’s an intimidating outlook for the world’s oceans (and for us, if things don’t change), but one that we through individual, corporate and government action can change course on. Since ocean acidification, rising marine temperatures and a literal country-sized mass of ocean plastic can seem insurmountable to the average consumer, the United Nations is making an effort to channel collective public energy to bring ocean stewardship down to earth.
For instance, the UN chose India as the host for this year’s World Environment Day to highlight the impact the average consumer can make, both nationally and globally, on the ocean plastics crisis. India launched art installations and a slate of activities ranging from nationwide clean-ups, to single-use plastic bans across their states, universities and national parks. If the second largest national population in the world can mobilize its citizens around ending plastic pollution, the hope is that the rest of us will be inspired to replicate and pay these models forward.
Separately, the Indian state of Gujarat has embraced the approach of collaboration as a means of waste reduction, their Pollution Control Board recently introducing the concept of “co-processing” waste. Co-processing repurposes waste for primary fuel or raw material by working with industries that generated large amounts of plastic waste. One paper mill in the Gujarat city of Vapi utilized their plastic byproducts for fuel in cement plants. While this process is still in trial stages and may require additional investment in the short-term, it has the potential to offset fuel costs in the long-term.
While governments work to provide the frameworks, the campaign against ocean pollution is spearheaded by individuals, businesses and NGOs. In 21 countries, TerraCycle works with producers to divert their municipally unrecyclable plastic products and packaging from landfilling and incineration (disposal methods that allow plastics to enter the environment) and to capture it for recycling, engaging billions of consumers, schools and organizations in the process.
By engaging with local beach cleanup NGOs and collecting over 120,000 pounds of beach plastics last year, TerraCycle was able to separate, clean, melt and remold beach plastic “waste” into raw material for the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made from beach plastic for Head & Shoulders. Make your personal contribution by signing-up for a local beach clean-up day.
Homegrown initiatives like this and those abroad in India and Europe are working to ensure that future generations can celebrate the ocean by dipping their toes in sandy beaches and clean water devoid of destructive ocean plastics.