Plastics play an integral part of all of our lives, but gyres of plastic waste are now swirling across hundreds of thousands of square miles in the Pacific Ocean and other bodies of water. As one who has worked in marine conservation and tested the health of New York City’s Hudson River, I’ve watched this problem of plastic waste in the oceans grow and become increasingly passionate about it. I’m trying to take steps in my daily life, and every one of us can too.
There is wide agreement about the need and urgency to find innovative ways to make plastics more sustainable. According to the Plastic Disclosure Project of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, an estimated seven million tons of plastic trash — including bottles, fishing nets, grocery bags and even microbeads in cleansers, finds its way into our oceans annually as a result of littering, illegal dumping and other sources.
Aside from the obvious harm ocean plastic waste causes to marine life (cue infamous image of seabirds unfashionably donning soda can rings), plastic waste does not biodegrade in oceans so it merely breaks down into tiny pieces that can make its way back into the food chain.
What Brands Can Do About Ocean Plastic Waste
Most major brands of water and soft drinks are spending millions every year to find innovative ways to address plastic waste, but there is still more that must be done. Poland Spring, for example, reuses their five gallon jugs upwards of 200 times before recycling them, according to the company’s website. However, their ubiquitous 500mL water bottles made with an ‘Eco-Shape’ design despite using 60% less plastic than the original bottle, will continue to amass in landfills, oceans, and elsewhere until their parent, giant Nestle Waters can find a way to deliver the benefits by using recycled plastic (or a different material altogether), or by employing a refill system.
Nothing Biodegrades in the Ocean
Several brands have introduced plastic packages made from renewable materials, among them, Sun Chips’ compostable chip bag in 2008 and Coca Cola’s ‘PlantBottle’ in 2009 made from ‘up to 30% plants’. Using renewables weans us off petroleum-based plastics, and you have to credit Coke for making sure the plant-based bottles are recyclable with other kinds of PET (#1’s). But did you know that even if they were made up of 100% plants they would still not be biodegradable?
The oceans are too cold to promote biodegradability of even organic matter, much less ocean plastic waste. That’s why we’re finding ships that sank at sea hundreds of years ago with their booty intact. Even 100% compostable containers require commercial-scale, hot temperature-controlled composting to actually break down the product – a home or community compost won’t do the trick.
Method’s Ocean Plastic Bottles: Reclaiming the Seas
A bit of sun peaked through murky waters in 2012 when cleaning product brand Method debuted a new bottle made from a combination of recovered ocean plastic and post consumer plastic. Method’s ‘Ocean Plastic’ bottles are partially made from trash that has washed up on Hawaiian beaches, thus preventing more plastics from winding up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Designed to raise awareness for ocean plastic waste and what can be done about it, Method’s website contains alot of helpful information about the issues, why the black bottles are ‘beautiful’ and what a company the size of Method is doing about it. Hat’s off to company co-founders Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan for being the first to make a start in taking plastic waste out of nature’s path.
Bureo Brand Skateboards Made from Fishing Nets: An Inspiring Start to Reducing Ocean Plastic Waste
Another notable victory for a little brand that’s trying to do something to reduce the problem of ocean plastic waste: Bureo Skateboards. At Earth Day New York festivities this year, I was instantly drawn to the not-so-typical products tables, and among them was Bureo brand skateboards whose decks are made from plastic fishing nets discarded off the Chilean coast — a meaningful step forward given that discarded plastic fishing nets account for 10% of ocean plastic pollution worldwide.
To boot, Bureo pays local fishing communities to collect the discarded nets, providing a source of jobs and economic activity.
Bureo’s co-founder Ben Kneppers notes, “For every board we are keeping more than 30 square-feet of harmful plastic fishnet waste out of our oceans, providing support to coastal communities while getting the younger generation to change their perception of ocean plastic pollution to hopefully inspire them to find their own way to make a positive contribution to the world.”
As of this writing, Bureo raised more than double their goal via Kickstarter to begin shipping boards made from reclaimed ocean plastic waste worldwide.
What People Can Do About Ocean Plastic Waste
Plastic waste in the ocean, for the most part, is largely avoidable with the daily employment of typical reduce, reuse, and recycle tactics. Even if you live far inland, there’s a lot that an individual can do. Did you know that only 30% of plastic containers are recycled, so upping the recycling rate can certainly prevent more plastics from finding its way to the sea.
Take the Plastic-Free July Challenge
Use refillables for water, soda, coffee and other drinks. Become conscious of all the times throughout your day that you use single-use plastic items like cups, plates, cutlery, and grocery bags.
As Gabrielle Grime recommended to us this time last year in a post called What are You Doing for A Plastic Free July? you can challenge yourself to go without single use plastic packages and other items for a month this summer. I for one will be taking the Challenge HERE.
Learn About MicroBeads in Abrasive Facial Cleansers
Unlike bottles that can be collected for recycling, microbeads are designed to wash right down the drain. Take time to research this issue further and pressure brands, retailers, and government to remove them. One campaign in this regard is Beat the MicroBead being run by the not-for-profit group, 5Gyres.
Support Brands That Are Making Strides to Reduce Ocean Plastic Waste
The success of such brands as Method and Bureo to reclaim plastic waste and reuse it in a creative way leaves me with hope that it is possible to make the necessary strides toward preventing even more plastics from polluting our oceans. If Method and Bureo can do it, others can too. So nudge your favorite brands into a ocean-plastic-reducing direction.
I’d love to hear about things you do and the brands you support because of the good they do to reduce plastic waste. So if you have any ideas or know of any other initiatives to keep our ocean blue and our marine life safe, please let me know!