Picture this, It’s 2021, there’s hoverboards, civilian space expeditions, and self driving cars. But we still can’t figure out what to do with all the plastic! When plastic hit the market, the quicker and disposable packaging solution, the ocean was doomed.

You can’t walk fifteen feet without seeing some debris in the street. All this is ending up in the bellies of marine wildlife. And if it doesn’t end there, it’s a gelatinous swamp in the ocean. So the real questions are, why aren’t companies adopting more recyclable friendly packaging? Do the recycling systems we have in place even work? How can we get the plastic out of the ocean?

Companies would have to spend more money to get recyclable packaging. My mother wrote to a yogurt company asking them why they did not use a recyclable container. Their answer was simply, having cheaper packaging made their prices cheaper for the consumer. Regardless, the price of consumables tend to rise as the years pass due to inflation. This sounds like an easy way out. On the upside, many businesses are trying to find solutions to the plastic problem. Starbucks has implemented cardboard straws and different cup lids to cut back on plastic use. Food establishments are providing biodegradable cutlery. Grocery stores are encouraging multi-use bags.

We already have recycling centers and recycling programs in most cities. However, there’s more plastic than anyone knows how to handle. National Geographic reported that only 91% of plastic is recycled. China used to take in a majority of the plastic from other countries. Unfortunately that stopped in 2018. There’s two things that happen to plastic once it’s recycled. One, it gets melted down and used again. Two, it combusts. And there’s way too much of it that does the latter. Also, there’s a price to be paid when burning plastic; air pollution. That’s another problem we don’t have enough time to discuss.

Unfortunately, due to the amount of plastic in the ocean, it will be many years before we see any real improvement when a solution is implemented. Fortunately, a young entrepreneur named Boyan Slat has designed an ocean cleaner. From what I read, it’s using a process that will catch the plastic goo. Boats will then grab the bags it collects the plastic in, and bring them back to land. His project is called The Ocean Cleanup. Boyan is not the only one cleaning up the ocean. There is a bracelet company called 4Ocean that makes bracelets out of recycled plastic found on beaches. They also donate some of their proceeds to different marine charities. I also saw marketing for bathing suits made out of recycled plastic.

I believe the only conclusion that can be said is that we all need to be more accountable. Hold the businesses to higher standards. Be better human beings and do our part to not be wasteful. Reuse and repurpose. Clean up after ourselves and do better for our oceans.

I read something recently online that said, “When people talk about traveling to the past, they worry about radically changing the present by doing something small, but barely anyone in the present really thinks that they can radically change the future by doing something small.”

Let’s all do something small today to make an even bigger impact on our tomorrow.

Essay by: Dallas Spann
Arizona State University

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