We’ve all seen the images: Plastic on an island beach in the middle of the Indian ocean – thousands of miles from the nearest convenience store offering bottled water. Fishing nets mix with bottle caps, plastic bags, and soda bottles, while hungry shore birds eat plastic instead of crabs.
Ordinary people may feel powerless when it comes to keeping our oceans and waterways plastic-free. But lifestyle changes can make a difference – as can understanding and supporting those who are helping to push forward changes through business, through policy, and through advocacy.
Here are a few things you can do now to help stop plastic pollution in our oceans.
Commit to avoiding single use plastics
Numbers on plastic in the ocean are often estimates, but considering 50% of the plastic produced around the globe each year is single-use plastic, it follows that much of what enters our oceans is also single-use. Many single-use plastics are not readily accepted in municipal recycling operations. As well, single-use plastics are often the lightest weight plastics (including straws, plastic bottles and plastic bags), meaning they’re much more likely to be blown to areas where they can head to the ocean.
What you can do is simply say “No.” A little planning can make avoiding single-use plastic easy and fun.
- Find a reusable water bottle you like and commit to using it instead of purchasing bottled water.
- Stash reusable bags in the car for larger shopping trips, and keep compact, fold-up versions in your purse or backpack for smaller purchases. If you forget your reusable bag, only buy what you can carry.
- Bring your own reusable cutlery to avoid having to use the plastic variety. Find a brand of sturdy cutlery you like, and make or buy a little pouch for it. You can add compostable or reusable straws to your pouch as well.
- Choose on-the-go foods that can be eaten without cutlery. Eating ice cream out of the cone is not only fun, but it also leaves behind zero waste.
Take advantage of recycling systems – and follow their rules
Overall, only about 9% of plastic that has been produced worldwide has been recycled. Even in places where recycling systems are available, far less plastic gets recycled than should. You can be proactive by understanding your town’s recycling guidelines and following them accordingly. Throwing unaccepted materials in your recycling bin can challenge your town’s recycling system and add cost.
To find solutions for harder to recycle items, check out earth911 and Terracycle. Preserve’s Gimme 5 program takes back most Preserve products for recycling and also offers resources for preventing plastic waste.
Improving recycling systems for all is a process that generally takes a long time since it involves governance, the economics of the resale market, as well as individual behavior. While there have been setbacks, there is also reason to be hopeful.
Support those at the forefront of ocean health
In order to mitigate our plastic-waste problem, individual action must be met with work by organizations and researchers. Ongoing research into how plastic flows into the ocean and what happens when it arrives, often funded by nonprofits, is vital for forming long-term solutions.
You can support the missions of organizations leading the charge toward better ocean health:
5 Gyres uses science, education, and adventure to empower action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution. In addition to engaging citizens, their research helps point to key sources of plastic pollution, and collaborative solutions for cutting off the flow.
Renew Oceans combines social change with plastics cleanup to engage workers in the informal economy along the Ganges River in India to earn a living through their cleanup efforts and be celebrated for the work they do.
Ocean Conservancy - Founded in 1971, Ocean Conservancy seeks solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. They bring people, science, and policy together around the world to fight for a sustainable ocean by working to protect vital ecosystems, defend critical legislation, and enforce accountability of leaders and legislators. They also coordinate the International Coastal Cleanup, working with millions of volunteers around the world to remove trash from our beaches and waterways.
Plastic Soup Foundation - With the mission of ‘no plastic waste in our water’, Plastic Soup Foundation creates innovative campaigns to create social change around plastics. They have developed educational programs for schools and collaborate with experts, politicians, organizations, universities, and companies to advance their mission.
Ocean Blue Project - works to protect and conserve the world’s ocean, beaches, and rivers through education and awareness. They help individuals organize cleanups in their communities and support restoration projects to enhance wildlife habitats.
Hold institutions, including universities, accountable for waste
Your voice is one of the most important tools at your disposal for reducing ocean waste. Tell the institutions in your community that you expect them to be responsible stewards of the Earth, and align yourself with groups that are combining their voices for a greater impact.
One organization taking a stand to both raise awareness and reduce the amount of waste headed to landfills (or out to sea) is the Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN). A coalition founded by university students to highlight the enormous amount of waste generated on college campuses, PLAN empowers students with actionable programs to reduce waste on their own campuses.
Buy only what you need, and choose businesses that are engaging with ocean plastic
Many businesses are designing new ways to reduce packaging and use recovered or recycled materials in their products. When done on a large scale, this creates a market for recovering plastic that’s headed for the ocean and also an opportunity for conversation and awareness.
Buying only what you need is an important tenant of reducing waste. But when you do need to shop, consider these businesses who are taking a stand against plastic in the ocean:
Bureo – Bureo has now cleaned up more than 365,000 kilograms of fishing nets and other plastics from beaches in South America, turning them into iconic skateboards as well as other items.
Method – Method used ocean plastic, together with recycled resin to make bottles for their soap – educating the public as well as creating a home for this material.
Preserve – the Preserve Ocean Plastic Initiative uses plastic headed for the ocean to create new versions of Preserve’s Shave 5 razor and Preserve toothbrush. The program also supports key non profits leading the way in ocean health.
Adidas – partnering with Parley for Oceans, Adidas is using plastic waste collected from coastal communities as feedstock for a new line of their popular running shoes.
Hewlett Packard - From ink cartridges to parts of new laptops, Hewlett Packard is using plastic collected from coastal communities in Haiti as feedstock for a number of their products.
Stay engaged with action at the local level. Initiatives such as unit-based pricing for trash (also known as pay as you throw or PAYT), which can be adopted at the municipal level, have been shown to cut per-capita trash generation nearly in half. And small-use taxes for plastic bags can steer behavior toward encouraging people to bring their own bags, reducing the use of both plastic and paper bags for shopping. Many initiatives depend on engaged citizens raising their voices for change. For information on voting for the environment check out:
League of Women Voters uses their non-partisan stance to educate voters and advocate for sensible environmental policy.
League of Conservation Voters seeks to turn environmental values into national, state, and local priorities.
Environmental Voter Project As it turns out, environmentalists don’t always have the best voting record. The Environmental Voter Project seeks to engage and register environmentalists so that their voices can be heard.
Preserve is committed to reducing ocean plastic through its POPi program, and through supporting the efforts of others doing this important work. How are you raising your voice for ocean health? Tell us about your work and the work of your favorite groups and organizations by leaving a comment on our Facebook page.