Can we win the battle against plastic ocean pollution?
If you’re reading this, you already have an interest in yachting, superyachts and of course, the oceans. For any of us with an investment in the yachting industry, whether it’s for leisure, professional, or financial reasons, ensuring the sustainability of the ocean is vital. The UN says we have reached ‘a planetary crisis’, because of plastic waste in the ocean; this is something that should frighten all of us.
It’s estimated that every year, BILLIONS of tonnes of plastic waste find their way into the world’s oceans. This waste comes from countries all around the globe, but it’s difficult to trace all sources and get accurate figures. In 2015, a study in the United States, led by Jenna R. Jambeck, used data on solid waste, population density and economic status to try and quantify the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans. They found that, unsurprisingly, a combination of high levels of waste and poor waste management systems, lead to a greater potential for plastic waste to end up in the ocean.
“Unless waste management practices are improved, the flux of plastics to the oceans could increase by an order of magnitude within the next decade.”
Consider this alongside the data from Ocean Conservancy’s International Oceans Clean Up in 2016. This campaign takes places each year and encourages volunteers from around the world to help clear waste products from the ocean. Thousands of people take part, collecting, logging and properly disposing of millions of items. Each year, plastic items dominate the list, with the top ten items including bottles, straws, drinking cups, food wrappers and containers and plastic bags.
But, it isn’t just visible plastics that cause problems. Thousands of products contain micro-plastics, some of which are minute, or even invisible to the naked eye. Anything less than 5mm in diameter is classed as a micro-plastic and in our oceans, they cause huge damage to ecosystems and wildlife. Scarily, they’re also entering the human food chain.
Micro-plastics come from a huge variety of man-made materials and have now been detected in many consumable goods. Studies have found micro-plastics in sea salt – where it has been detected in 16 out of 17 brands from eight different countries, in the flesh of fish and even in tap water.
Researchers at Ghent University, reported that people in Europe, who eat seafood could also be eating up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic per year. Additionally, an investigation for Orb Media found plastic fibres in the tap water of 83% of samples from around the world. The US was the country with the highest contamination rate, at 94%. Samples that tested positive for plastic fibres were obtained from sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. In Europe, the contamination rate was 72%.
In raw numbers, this translates to an average number of fibres in each 500ml sample, as 4.8 in the US and 1.9 in Europe.
In addition, beauty and cleaning products frequently contain micro-plastics – some Governments recognise the dangers and are already acting to ban them from use. Furthermore, glitter is becoming such an environmental problem that it is now being banned in some children’s nurseries.
Clearly, cleaning up is important, but the real answer is to stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place. But what can we, as individuals, yacht owners, captains, sailors and crew do to stop the plastics from getting into the ocean?
Firstly, think about your individual plastic footprint. How many unnecessary plastic items do you use? Single use bottles? Plastic drinking straws? Those awful thin, plastic shopping bags? Then take positive action, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3:
1. Invest in refillable drinks bottles; buy an insulated portable mug for hot drinks.
2. When a plastic straw is offered with your drink, say no. You can always buy your own paper straws.
3. Buy a bag for life and use it! (Also, if you buy supermarket bags for life, they will often replace and recycle ripped bags for free.)
You can also pledge to make a difference by thinking about the products you buy and avoiding those with excessive packaging.
Within the yachting industry, we are perfectly placed to lead the way on this vital issue. Why not consider making your yacht as plastic-free as possible? Remove single-use bottles, plastic straws, replace plastic bags with paper and make sure your cleaning and hygiene products are free of micro-plastics.
The only way we can ensure the oceans are sustainable for future generations in our industry is to act fast and act now.
If you want to find out how you can help clean up the oceans, you can find out more from Ocean Conservancy.