It’s impossible to get away from it – plastic is absolutely everywhere. Plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic take-away containers, plastic packaging, even plastic wrapped vegetables. Plastic has infiltrated society. It’s also infiltrated our oceans. There’s an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris floating around in the sea, with this number only expected to rise. And this isn’t just a case of rubbish being dumped into the ocean – 49% of marine debris is land-based. Litter on the ground can easily find its way into our waterways be it a discarded cigarette butt, an overflowing rubbish bin, or litterbugs who simply don’t care about leaving their trash behind.
Littering is a huge problem, and plastic pollution poses a major threat to the environment. At the rate we’re going there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the time we reach 2050. And we’re all responsible – the consumer who buys it, the businesses that produce it, the governments who won’t legislate against it. Australians get through 3.92 billion plastic bags per year, and we are the second biggest waste producer (after the US) in the world, with each person sending 690kg of waste to landfills every year. Plastic can take up to a 1000 years to degrade, and when it breaks down it just turns into smaller pieces called micro-plastics. That’s just more plastic particles spreading their tentacles far and wide.
So what can we do to help?
One of the issues appears to be education. People aren’t aware of how bad the problem is, and how their day to day micro-decisions are affecting the macro-environment. The Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign, along with the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, are two initiatives at the forefront of raising awareness about the plastic pollution that’s poisoning our oceans. Beach clean ups take place all around the country, where litter is collected and then counted, with the data finally recorded in the Australian Marine Debris Initiative database. This is invaluable work, and provides important statistics on the main litter offenders.
On Sunday, we joined our local Sea Shepherd Marine Debris team for a clean up at Buddy’s favourite doggie beach, Sirius Cove. It was a beautiful day, there was a great turnout, and the beach looked immaculate. It was hard to believe that in just one hour the team would gather over 91kg of rubbish. We collected 4000 items including 299 cigarette butts, 103 plastic straws, 265 plastic lids, 462 plastic food wrappings, 57 plastic bottles, and 1170 plastic remnants. That was just one small cove, in one hour. Imagine how much more rubbish is lurking out there, waiting to slope into our waterways.
Apart from the obvious benefits of removing 91kg of rubbish from the beach, these clean ups are a great way to get involved and learn more about environmental issues. Our group included established Sea Shepherd coordinators and volunteers along with regular clean-up crew, and first time litter pickers. There were young and old, families with kids, families with dogs, locals and not so locals. It was great to see a group of people coming together to do some good on a Sunday morning. Not only were we able to provide important data to the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, we were also raising awareness in the community. Other beachgoers could clearly see what we were up to, and many passed and made comment on the huge pile of rubbish we collected. I think people were shocked that their seemingly clean beach was actually infested with plastic. Even some of the clean up crew were surprised as to what they found. You can quote statistics at people until the cows come home but nothing beats a visual demonstration to really hammer the message home.
The Sea Shepherd Marine Debris team organise clean-ups around the country about once a month, and you can find out more about events in your area by checking out their Facebook page. Sunday’s clean up was captured in all its glory by Diana Shypula, Prema Photo. You can watch the video below:
This video was republished with permission. Copyright Prema Photo
As citizens of Earth we have a responsibility to reduce our plastic usage. I think it’s impossible to get away from it entirely – the keys I’m typing on now are made of plastic for example – but single-use plastic needs to be abolished. It’s wasteful and unnecessary. 20,700 tonnes worth of plastic bags end up in landfills each year all in the name of convenience. Your choices as an individual can make a difference:
- Don’t buy single-use plastic bottles.
- Bring your own re-usable shopping bags.
- Choose products that aren’t wrapped in plastic.
- Skip the take-away, and go out for dinner instead.
- Say no to the straw! Go without or bring your own.
We all need to be more aware of what we’re consuming and make ourselves accountable for where our waste products end up. Plastic pollution is a problem that we’ve created, so it’s up to us to help fix it.