A whopping 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans every year [NB1]. This causes approximately $13 billion of economic damage to marine systems around the world, polluting our once beautiful waters.
With recent findings showing that there are 8.3 million microplastic fragments per cubic metre of ocean water [NB2], it means that we can’t see a lot of the damage out there. Make no mistake, this danger continues to grow and have severe impacts on our environment. Even the humble flip flop can have a devastating impact on a large scale.
If pollution continues at its current rate, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050[NB3]. This is how dire the situation is. Thankfully, there are steps we can take around the world to reduce the impact plastic is having on our environment.
While the water is now filled with harmful plastics, it hasn’t always been this way. We explore how and why this issue of a plastic ocean has come about.
Pollution starts in the streets
While ocean pollution is a global issue, it mainly stems from developing countries. Despite major events causing plastic pollution such as the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused great damage to the Japanese city of Fukishima[NB4], more than half of the plastic that flows into the ocean comes from parts of South and Southeast Asia[NB5].
Poor waste management and a high population in the surrounding area of these developing countries has been the biggest contributors to plastic pollution. With water not safe to drink out of taps in many developing countries, bottled water is the only healthy way to stay hydrated. Because of this, developing countries use a significant volume of plastic containers. In fact, the South East Asia bottled water market is forecast to reach 39.48 billion by 2024[NB6].
Thousands of water bottles and food containers litter streets and waterways. With a lack of rubbish bins, street sweepers and waste management, the plastic problem continues to grow. This is further compounded by countries not having sufficient sanitation systems in place to deal with the eye-opening amount of plastic waste. Open drains carry this waste to rivers — and we now have our plastic ocean.
From rivers to the ocean
Rubbish from the streets ends up in rivers that flow into the ocean, creating an endless cycle of pollution. In fact, research has shown that 10 rivers carry up to 90 per cent of the ocean’s plastic[NB7].
In Asia, these rivers are:
· The Yangtze
· Hai He
And in Africa, both the Nile and Nigar contribute to this plastic pollution epidemic. From the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Dr Christian Schmidt explained the correlation between the rivers’ locations and the pollution[NB8]:
“The more waste there is in a catchment area that is not disposed of properly, the more plastic ultimately ends up in the river and takes this route to the sea.”
What do these countries need?
Bans of single-use plastic have started to be enforced around the world, with 170 countries pledging to “significantly reduce” the use of plastic by 2030 [NB9]. However, plastic production has continued to rise year on year [NB10], meaning that our mindset around plastic use needs to change.
This means a larger focus needs to be on educating those in developing counties about reusing and recycling plastic. In places like Bali, particular focus on education is needed.
This Indonesian island receives over six million tourists annually, which when added to a population of four million people, creates mass waste issues. Only a small island, Bali has countless choking rivers, inundated beaches and obscene amounts of waste for people to see.
To combat this, education is becoming more prominent in Bali, with youth-run organisations like Bye Bye Plastic Bags [NB11] working to change the mindset of Balinese people. Waste management is also starting to take more of a priority, with companies such as EcoBali [NB12] collecting non-organic waste, sorting and sending recyclable plastic to Java.
As education around recycling and reusing plastic continues, damage to our oceans can be limited. Taking care of the issue at the source and our streets will go a long way to stopping this damage.
However, we still have much work to do if we’re to save our planet, and we need everyone’s help.
Become an Ocean Ambassador
Redux is a new organisation seeking to provide a tangible link between the person with the funds and the person who needs them.
People in developing countries are paid to clean up the streets in their local area. This ensures that the rubbish does not end up in the drains and waterways and ultimately the ocean (the majority of plastic in our ocean comes from 10 rivers in the developing world). People and organisations in developed countries pay for the area to be cleaned up and the plastic recycled (where possible) and the rubbish disposed of properly. Creating employment and having a positive impact on our environment.
Redux provides a win-win situation, this is the platform that allows people to have the tangible link between their funds and the people that they seek to impact.
Soon you will be able to become an Ocean Ambassador and clean up a street in Bali at www.redux.org.