I frequently get asked “but how does plastic end up in our oceans in the first place?”
This is usually the question I would receive after (forcefully) raising the topic of plastic pollution with colleagues, friends and family.
I can’t help it.
I absolutely love the sea and hate to see what plastic is doing to it. So with the recent spike in media coverage on the plastic pandemic that’s damaging our oceans and killing over 1,000,000 sea birds and 100,000 marine animals each year, I’ve become an advocate for keeping our oceans blue and clean.
I even launched Lovers of The Sea, an online brand that raises awareness about the topic and helps people reduce their plastic footprint.
And while my knowledge and understanding of plastic pollution has grown, I find that a lot of people are unaware of how plastic actually ends up in our oceans. In fact, I genuinely did not, until I dug deeper and picked-up a copy of Lucy Siegle’s Turning The Tide on Plastic.
So here it is, the six ways in which plastic ends up in our oceans:
- Littering on Land. An estimated 80% of marine litter comes from land. Basically, any plastic waste that isn’t properly deposited on land can be whipped up by the wind and rain and will travel in a seaward direction. That’s why it’s important to drop all plastic in recycle bins. Then again, in many countries, the only bins you find on the streets are garbage bins. This was the case for me while traveling through Guatemala and Nicaragua — even now as I’m living in Canada. So what do you do with that takeaway coffee cup that’s lined with plastic inside (bet you didn’t know that) or that plastic bottle (unfortunately, while traveling, you sometimes don’t have another choice but to buy a plastic bottle)? You throw it in the garbage bin, which goes to landfill, which, in the grand scheme of things, is one of the factors as to why less than 15% of global plastic is recycled. But that’s an entirely new topic — so let’s stay focused and move on to point #2.
- Rubbish Transport. When rubbish is being transported to landfill, lightweight plastic can be blown away. It can eventually clutter around drains and enter rivers and end up at sea. That’s why it’s important to drop all plastic in recycle bins. Then again, in many countries, the only bins you find on the streets are garbage bins — oh wait, I’ve already mentioned that.
- Flow from Rivers. Rivers are a major source of plastic pollution. They are thought to deposit between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic in the sea. The most contributing of those rivers are found in Asia. But we cannot blame those countries for this, because it’s the western countries like Canada, USA and the UK to name a few that are sending heaps of trash over to Indonesia, Vietnam, and The Philippines — countries that don’t have a state-of-the-art recycling infrastructure or capacity to recycle that much waste. And now the tables have turned: Asian countries are sending trash back!
- Illegal Dumping into Sea. People throwing plastic into sea. If you see someone toss plastic out of a boat or from the shore into sea, please call them out on it! It’s not just people littering the oceans. It’s also fishermen. Did you know that fishing nets account for 46% of all the plastics in the ocean? Never mind the cruise ships that are dumping their garbage out in the open sea.
- Synthetic fibres that are washed. Unlike natural fibres such as cotton, wool, linen and silk, synthetic man-made fibres such as polyester and acrylic are plastic-based textiles. During the wash cycle, an acrylic garment can shed upwards of 700,000 microfibres. These fibres are flushed into our drains, eventually finding their way into rivers and then oceans. While these microfibres cannot be seen in the human eye, they are contributors to the plastic soup and they do account for the credit card’s worth of plastic we consume in a given week. So stick to shopping apparel that’s made from cotton, linen or wool.
- Flushing down the toilet. There is a habit for people to flush wet wipes, cotton swabs/buds and sanitary products down the toilet. All these products contain plastic — unless of course you’re using 100% biodegradable bamboo cotton swabs… As per Lucy Siegle’s tip: take it as a rule that only 3Ps — poo, pee and paper (loo paper) — should ever go in the toilet.
So there you have it. If you ever get asked “how does plastic end up in our oceans?” you now know what to say. ;)