Nearly all of us have experienced the wonders of the oceans with our own eyes. We remember the sound of the rushing waves inching too close to our sandcastles or the splashing of excited footsteps. In photographs or daydreams, we see a place of bright sun and blue waters that await to sweep our sun-kissed bodies into relaxing vacation bliss.
It is easy to fall into false contentment, to think that this moment lasts forever. We are privileged to remember beautiful beaches or clean ocean waters, but we are not privileged enough to have this reality. In reality, our ocean waters are being poisoned by the hands of man, buried in our forgotten waste, and destroyed by our lack of environmental responsibility. Juxtaposed to the sounds of our summer laughter is the ocean’s most vulnerable inhabitants being strangled by our plastics. Perhaps those blue waters were a fragmented delusional keeping us from seeing the dirty brown slime. A sickly Poseidon awaits us, is there anything that can be done?
Like the cliche of finding out the answer has been inside all along, the solution to cleaning our oceans begins with us. Every 60 seconds, a garbage truck size load of trash is dumped into our oceans (Hollaway). Unfortunately, mankind is the one loading up the truck and acting as the driving force to pollute oceans across the world. Moreover, the amount of trash in our ocean leads to a variety of disastrous effects. For animals, they are often strangled by our plastics or become sick from ingesting it. For humans, we risk our own health by possibly consuming animals the have to absorb the toxic chemicals from plastic. We and our governments are also the ones responsible for the hefty cost an unhealthy ocean presents.
However, simple everyday changes can work to reduce the 12 million metric tons of plastics, including packaging, that goes into our oceans every year (Hutchinson). Cutting out single-use plastics, which account for 50% of all plastics, does lower the effect man has on the ocean (“Reducing Plastic Waste”). Examples of these plastics include straws, utensils, grocery bags, coffee cups, etc. Understandably, it is hard to stop and reflect on the products you are buying every day. No one wants to think that they are contributing to the death of marine life or the millions of pounds of plastic that will not biodegrade for thousands of years. However, it is important to hold ourselves accountable and at least try to end some of man’s most unhealthy habits like buying these cheap single-use plastics. When people decide to change the way they live, a small piece of the ocean is saved each time.
Another adoptable ocean-friendly habit is recycling. Due to financial or access issues, you may not be able to find an alternative to single-use plastics; however, that does not stop you from recycling them. Moreover, people have the option to switch to use a more environmentally ethical alternative such as wood, hemp, bamboo, etc. Likewise, we can start using reusable bags and supporting companies that work to reduce their waste. For instance, more soap brands are interested in creating a bar form of their soap to stop contributing to the thousands of bottles left to rot in landfills and our oceans (Ferguson). Additionally, bottles, food wrappers, and the types of branded packaging are amongst the top contributors to plastics in our ocean (“What Can I Do”). With this in mind, we need to be more cautious with who and where we’re are sourcing our goods from.
Although we may be saving a buck by buying from foreign countries such as China, Phillapeans, and Indonesia, we perpetuating a system that does not put the intrinsic value of the ocean first. Our shopping habitats for achieving the lowest price comes at the cost of the ocean. The cargo ships that carry our foreign purchases account for 20% of pollution in our oceans (“What Can I Do”). By shopping from places that have better and legal waste management systems such as the United States or Europe, we can reduce the amount of waste going into the ocean as a consumer. Additionally, we can encourage companies to reduce their packaging and think twice about how likely it is to end in the ocean. As consumers, we need to put pressure on companies to reduce their carbon footprint and make their products or packaging with higher recyclability (“What Can I Do”).
Lastly, those who care about cleaning up the ocean can organize together to educate. Educating those about the importance of oceanic ecosystems and their vulnerabilities to waste and other forms of pollutants may make them think twice about littering or may convince them to reduce their waste altogether. Plus, as people become aware of the issue, they are more likely to get involved in the mass clean up efforts. Not only will these efforts help us and our human activities in the oceans, but they will also prevent animals, especially birds, from digesting our plastics (Hutchinson). Similarly, we can organize and support the ban and reduction of certain plastics. Around the world, there have been 76 countries that have implemented these bans to help clear their oceans. Unfortunately, these types of bans do not occur unless citizens demand legislative preventative care for the ocean. Thus, being outwardly spoken about the plastics and packaging in our ocean does inspire real change at a critical level.
All in all, there are my individual ways we can reduce our waste in the ocean. Recycling the plastics we already bought, finding better plastic alternatives, researching where our purchases are from, supporting brands that work to reduce plastic packaging, educating others, and supporting legislative action are amongst the actions we can take. Next summer, we should be able to enjoy the fun summer sun and the cool blue waters without a heavy conscious. Protecting oceans is the very least we can do as species. It shows great characters to make changes to benefit the livelihoods of animals, coral, and entire ecosystems. Now, with open hearts, it is time to mend the oceans we have traveled upon, swam in, and fed from.
Essay by: Emily Cossey
Arizona State University