Contributed by Waterlogic
As we do each year on June 8, the focus during World Oceans Day 2019 was on several issues impacting the health of our oceans, including plastic and microplastic pollution. Much is left to be done to address this growing threat to our oceans and ocean life. Our oceans are the lungs of our planet – releasing most of the oxygen people breathe and providing us with fish to eat, a stable climate, a natural water source and a plethora of medicines. A thriving marine environment is critical to global health and through commemorative days we can spur a worldwide movement to promote the sustainable management of this precious marine resource.
If you were to walk along any river bank, beachfront, or marine location, it is highly likely that you will find at least one piece of plastic. Since the introduction of the first polyethylene bag in the 1960’s, the reliance on single-use plastic has grown. Not only does around 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year, but they break down into smaller particles known as microplastics that eventually find their way into the food chain. By polluting the oceans, we are not only destroying natural marine habitats but also causing untold damage to our own health.
The North Pacific Ocean – the vast body of water between Japan and the United States - is now the most polluted of the world's oceans, with an estimated two trillion pieces of plastic, or one-third of the total plastic found in the oceans today.
The effects of plastic on marine life and the oceans
According to recent estimations, roughly 100,000 marine mammals are killed every year as a result of eating plastic.
Scientists exploring the deepest ocean trenches in Japan, the Hebrides, and Chile have found plastics in every nook. More worryingly, when they tested the wildlife that lives there, 100% of the tested creatures in one location had plastic in their gut.
Officials from the United Nations Environment Programme warn of an impending ‘Ocean Armageddon’ unless we phase out our reliance on single-use items such as plastic bags, bottles, straws, and cutlery.
How much plastic do we consume?
Researchers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory recently studied the digestive tract of market-bought shrimp to ascertain what it had consumed. A small application of red dye immediately flagged a startling insight: seven pieces of plastic in the stomach of one shrimp bought for human consumption.
This is not uncommon. Scientists have found plastic fibers, fragments, and micro-beads in both marine and freshwater fish, wild-caught and farmed. Of the 114 species known to have plastic in their stomachs, we end up eating more than half of them. Species such as plankton, bivalves, fish and whales regularly consume microplastics as they look just like their food. As a result, they suffer from clogged digestive tracts, loss of appetite and changes in feeding behaviour, which later affect their growth and reproductive capability.
Which plastics should we avoid?
A plastic bag has an average usable life of just 12 minutes but will survive in the marine environment for thousands of years, including in the digestive tract of a whale. The US has slowly introduced legislation to outlaw single-use bags in several States, but could stretch much further.
Parts of the West Coast have introduced a total ban, including California and Hawaii, which remain the only territories to do so. Other Western, and a handful of Eastern territories have introduced regional bans or levies, but these do not stretch to an outright ban. Central States have remained immovable, introducing no restrictions at all while Michigan, Missouri and Idaho have gone so far as to ‘ban any bans’ on single-use plastic bags.
If we reuse plastic, it becomes less of a concern unless it is the type that contains Bisphenol A (BPA). Bisphenol A is a hormone-disrupting material linked to autism, birth defects, and reproductive issues. Remember to check the composition of any plastic item used and avoid anything suggesting BPA, particularly in children’s cups and bottles which frequently include this compound.
- Number 3 - Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Contains di-2- Ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), an endocrine disruptor and possible carcinogen.
- Number 6 – Polystyrene (PS): It can leach styrene, another endocrine disruptor, and probable carcinogen, into food.
- Number 7 – Polycarbonate: contains BPA.
When it comes to recyclable plastics, they should be rinsed, then disposed of in the appropriate recycling bins for collection by local authorities. As a rule, avoid purchasing items which include numbers 3, 6 and 7 as best as you can. For other numbers, check to see if your local facility can process them for recycling.
How can my workplace help protect the oceans for the future?
Fixing the situation starts at the top, and so we should set the right agenda to encourage positive behaviour.
- Maximize the use of recycling bins
Even if plastic is vital to daily operations, we can encourage sustainable behaviour by providing recycling bins for plastics, paper and other waste. If you are concerned about the lack of engagement, implement a policy to ensure those around you make use of the amenities provided.
- Enjoy the kitchen facilities
Food wrappers often use plastic type 3, an endocrine disruptor and possible pollutant, which is not readily-recyclable. If we are forced to purchase lunch from food outlets, this means having to buy single-use type 3 plastics, shown on the plastic triangle. However, by getting creative in your kitchen facilities, you can make the most of eating healthy whilst reducing consumption of environmentally unfriendly plastics.
- Minimize the use of unnecessary packaging
Whether in the products sold, communications sent, or even at the water dispenser; there are multiple areas you can reduce your reliance on plastic. Minimize packaging where possible, encourage the use of reusable drinking bottles, and provide non-plastic plates, cutlery, and cups.
- Get involved with local events and raise awareness
There are many ways for businesses to get involved in World Oceans Day. Whether you choose to plan your own event or attend one organized by others, the options are endless. You can even download plastic pollution resources and promotional materials to help raise awareness. No matter what you do – every action has a huge impact.
Your chance to help save the planet
- Update your perspective
Speak with others about what the ocean means to you and how healthy oceans will benefit us all for years to come.
Explore the wealth of beautiful marine creatures that live in the seas and how our daily consumer habits are affecting them all.
- Change your habits
Everything is interconnected, and we are all linked to – and through – the ocean. If you take care of it in any way you can by working with your community, you become a champion for our planet.
Whether you live inland or on the coast, consider how the ocean influences your life and how your life influences the sea, then create or participate in events that celebrate our wonderful marine environments!
We all have a responsibility to ensure that oceans remain healthy for generations to come – so, let’s make each day count.
About the Author
Waterlogic is a leading global supplier of sustainable water dispenser solutions. The company raises essential questions about our impact on the environment and the affirmative steps we should take to promote sustainability.