Each year an estimated 8 million metric tons, or 17 billion pounds, of plastic flows into the ocean. Enough is enough.
First and foremost, an endless flow of trash into the ocean will affect the health of humans and wildlife alike as well as compromise the livelihoods that depend on a healthy ocean. Trash and debris such as fishing gear, straws, and plastic bags pose a deadly threat to marine life. Fishing gear can trap helpless sea turtles and cut through flesh of whales, while plastic bags are easily mistaken as food and consumed by animals. Straws can be hazardous in that they can get stuck in a nostril, a blowhole, an eye, or even a throat.
Every 60 seconds, what amounts to roughly a garbage truck full of plastic makes its way into the ocean. That means that over the next year about 8 million tons of plastic will enter the ocean, creating a massive amount of marine pollution.
It’s estimated that if we don’t do anything to address this source of pollution, there will be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean by 2025.
Preventing further damage to our oceans will require a coordinated global effort, and the United States has a vital role to play in leading this charge.
True confessions: I’m secretly a total Harry Potter nerd. Okay, maybe it’s not so secret… (#TeamHufflepuff anyone?) Which is why I did a literal happy dance in my living room when I saw Emma Watson’s gown for last night’s Met Gala.
I had the great fortune to head south of the equator last September for Ocean Conservancy’s 29th International Coastal Cleanup. VIDA Peru, Ocean Conservancy’s longtime Cleanup partner in Peru, invited me to participate in a weeklong series of events on ocean trash, culminating with one of their country’s signature Cleanup events at Marquez Beach. Having been my first time to Peru, and South America for that matter, I was uncertain of the beach and waterway conditions I’d find. Unfortunately, as I spoke more and more with folks from VIDA Peru in advance of the Cleanups, my expectations of clean beaches were quickly dispelled.
I asked Arturo Medina, President of VIDA Peru, what the major culprits were for ocean trash in Peru. He noted that “the waste infrastructure is drastically lacking in Peru to handle the increased waste flows. Ultimately, it all ends up in the rivers, on the beaches and flowing into the sea. Legal and illegal dumpsites located directly on the beaches are also a major issue, yielding steady streams of debris into the water.” I witnessed this first hand as one such site was visible on the beach as I sat on my surfboard offshore—dump truck after dump truck offloading rubbish onto the sand.
Some people would call Belize paradise. Having recently returned, I can’t say I disagree, but I also saw threats to the beauty on the surface. I spent a week in Belize researching the connection between waste management, plastic pollution and ocean health in this Central American country. As Chief Scientist, I’m working closely with our Trash Free Seas® team to build on our 30-year history of protecting our ocean from the growing threat of ocean trash.
I toured much of the country with independent consultant Ted Siegler from DSM Environmental Services, gaining a firsthand perspective on how recent investments in waste management systems in Belize are improving ocean health but learning how much farther the country needs to go. A former British colony, Belize is frequented by tourists for its beautiful beaches and tropical breezes. But Ted and I visited many sights never seen by these outsiders. The upshot? Trash is a major problem in Belize, as it is in many developing countries. And it is increasingly clear that this has big consequences for the health of the ocean.
Frequently used for take-out containers, disposable drink cups and other single-use products, EPS is a hazard to our environment—not only because of its brittle nature and propensity to fragment into small pieces—but also because it can’t be recycled, economically. This is compounded by the fact that we use so much of it! Last year, the city of New York collected about 28,500 tons of polystyrene! (That’s a lot of take-out!)