When I think about how to reduce packaging waste in the world’s oceans, I think about what it takes to be a change maker in my generation. To me it is clear that education is the key to creating change. My generation is faced with a world in crisis that no other generation before us has faced. Global climate change threatens to end the world as we know it if we do not take swift and extreme action.

As part of how I care for our planet and common home, I am conscientious about specific individual steps I can take: I am careful to limit my use of disposable plastics and conserve energy and water whenever possible. From recycling and reuse principles to educating our neighborhood association about the dangers of commercial fertilizers to our waterways, I endeavor to make small steps at sustainability of our planet. My actions as an individual is a small step in the process to help save our environment, but it is far from enough. I need to influence those around me to lead change; I believe educating my generation is the key to doing this.

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was raised boating, fishing, and crabbing in the Puget Sound waterways. Having witnessed the problem firsthand, a cause I have become concerned about is plastic pollution in our waters. In the last few years, we have increasingly heard stories about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I have designed an in-depth course on this topic to propose as a summer class to my future university to educate my generation about this problem.

This class will travel to Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean to examine the environmental and health impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans. I envision a multidisciplinary course in the Environmental Science department, studying plastic development in the early 1930s and how the creation of the cheap, convenient, and indestructible material changed the way that humans live. The economic and political impact on our society would also be discussed. The plastic industry is the third largest industry in the United States, headed by the American Chemistry Council with strong political influence. Further focus on the composition of plastics and the BPAs used to harden the material will provide understanding of the chemistry that makes plastics dangerous to our food chain. Additionally, the physical effects of the waste on coral reefs and beaches will be examined. Midway Atoll resides in the middle of the pacific gyre that captures plastics and delivers them to the shores of the atoll. More than 20 tons of plastic wash up on its beach yearly. Students would help clean the beaches and measure and classify the debris. The sands and water surrounding the atoll would be sampled to measure levels of microplastics. Students would swim the reef and observe the physical damage that plastic waste has inflicted.

Ultimately, I intend to be a change maker, helping educate my generation to change their daily habits, consumer choices, and use of their voting power to help change our common global future. If we all are aware of the history, health problems, and devastation that plastic causes in our oceans, we can work together to clean up our oceans and create a generation that will care for our common home.

Essay by: Trenton Paul Slocum
Pepperdine University

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