“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Our oceans matter
Save our planet. Say no to plastic. Act before it’s too late. We keep hearing or reading these words constantly in the news or on social media but have you ever wondered what’s the urgency that lays behind or why is our planet and our oceans screaming for help or that maybe the real culprit is no one else but us, human beings?! The reason why our oceans are of such great importance is because they stand as the largest ecosystem on Earth and as the planet’s life support system. The world’s oceans cover three quarters of the Earth; they contain 97% of the Earth’s water and are home to an amazing wildlife and at the same time they cater for billions of people with food and income. Besides, they also generate half of the oxygen we breathe while absorbing half of all man-made climate-warming carbon dioxide. As you may have noticed, the list can be endless when it comes to how our oceans enhance our lives hence the necessity for us to keep our oceans healthy. For the past decades, things are not going swimmingly at sea and latest figures show a dramatic decline in ocean health and the causes are already known – Our seas are overused and under protected and despite having the appropriate solutions, the challenge is to get every single one of us on board and to act efficiently for our oceans’ recovery.
“It’s just one straw, it’s just one disposable cup, it’s just one plastic bag”
– 7.4 billion people
The story of plastic is the story of all of us.
Plastic undeniably touches all of our lives, be it the food packaging we buy, the computers we work with or the means of transport we use and the reason why plastic stands as an impediment is because many of the plastics we use in our daily life are used only once and thrown away. As a result, much of plastic ends up in our oceans. As the amount of plastic in our oceans is on a drastic rise, we might end up with a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the sea in the years to come. Every year, more than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans, arousing havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism and thus amounting to approximately $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems where up to 80% of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic. According to studies carried out, the rate at which we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, our oceans will carry more plastic than fish by 2050. From the tiniest plankton to the largest whales, plastics impact nearly 700 species in our ocean; it has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtle’s species that mistake plastic for food. When animals ingest plastic, it can cause life-threatening problems, including reduced fitness, nutrient uptake and feeding efficiency—all vital for survival and some of these incidents have happy endings but in reality many more do not.
About 80% of marine pollution comes from land-based activities. Waste is dumped into drains and rivers and ultimately ends in our seas. Oil, fertilisers, sewage, plastics and toxic chemicals are all part of the mix. While all of the pollutants are having severe negative impacts, plastic is so far the one with the most disastrous impacts. Around 275 million tons of plastic waste is generated each year around the world; between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons is either washed or dumped deliberately into the sea. According to the World Bank, the planet’s municipal solid waste is expected to double within 15 years, much of this in the form of single-use plastic items as bottles, bags, balloons, packaging, shoes take decades to break down and decompose. Today, 60% of the plastic waste in the ocean comes from just 5 countries – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. By 2025, plastic consumption in Asia will increase by 80%, surpassing 200 million tons. Industry experts expect that by 2050 we will be producing three times as much plastic as we do today. We can clearly deduce that the future of plastics in our ocean will be determined by the way we handle plastics on land.
“Plastic oceans deserve the support and participation of all of us who hope to bequeath a liveable world to future generations.” – Noam Chomsky, Scholar, Linguist, Author
UNITED NATIONS – #CleanSeas campaign
The UN has included as its 14th Sustainable Development Goal the target to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.” This is one of UN sustainable goals to be achieved by 2025 in which it aims at preventing and significantly reducing marine pollution of all kinds, especially land-based activities. Similarly, UN Environment launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia a major global #CleanSeas campaign to end marine litter. This campaign is a global movement which targets governments, industries and consumers, urging them to urgently cut off the production and excessive use of plastic that are damaging the Earth’s oceans, causing harm to our marine life and threatening human health. UN Environment aims at thoroughly transforming all spheres, be it habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe in order to reduce marine litter and the harm it causes. Today, ten countries have already joined the campaign: Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Indonesia, Norway, Panama, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay. Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”
“Refuse what you can’t reuse. Together, we can chart a path to a cleaner, greener world.”
– UN Secretary-General António Guterres
A solution as wide as the ocean
Plastic in the ocean is a people problem, which means people like you and me can help solve it. With 8 million metric tons dumped in the ocean every year, our oceans can’t wait for long term solutions and this is why we need to act now to make sure the accompanying wave of plastic waste never reaches our ocean. Considering plastic lurks in every nook and corner of our lives, it appears to be unrealistic and impractical to banish it completely from our daily lives and indeed, plastic is a useful material which does facilitate our lives in many ways. However, it needs to be managed in the right way where it is valued as a resource and not as waste or a danger to our ocean and its wildlife. Each of us can make a difference by rejecting single-use plastics and recycling what we do use. As individuals, we can also help by making lifestyle changes by recycling more or drinking from reusable water bottles. We might think our contribution is small or that such actions are of minor importance but together our collective action is powerful and every single action matters. If we take plastic pollution and environmental issues as our own problem and if we get together to save our blue planet, things will gradually and eventually get back on the right track and we can prevent things from getting worse.
“No one can solve the problem of plastic pollution alone, but together we will fuel global change.”
– UN Environment Erik Solheim