Plastic has been one of the biggest polluters in our ocean for a long time. According to PEW, around 13 million tons of plastic end up into the ocean each year. Marine animals have been severely affected by this issue. The amount of plastic waste does not seem to be diminishing either. It is projected that over the next 20 years, the ocean might have as much plastic waste as sea life.
The most important step to reducing packaging waste is to prevent plastic from entering the ocean in the first place. In Australia, the government created and attached nets to the ends of sewer pipes. They collect waste that falls into the sewer lines so that it can be properly disposed of and not end up in the ocean. In the U.S, a 19 year-old student created a device that would contain plastic debris in oceanic garbage patches. Garbage patches are certain places in the ocean that collect a large amount of disposable waste because of the rotating oceans currents. This device will collect trash that can later be recycled. If countries implemented technology such as sewer nets and devices to catch trash, they could prevent trash from entering the ocean and be able to dispose of it properly.
However, these are not perfect systems. Trash could still end up in the ocean regardless of implementing this technology. Another important step to reduce the harm of oceanic plastic pollution from home is to encourage people and companies to reuse plastic items and materials. Instead of buying plastic bottles and throwing them away, people should buy a reusable and washable water bottle. A few years ago, certain countries in Asia started selling metal straws and chopsticks because they are easily washable and can be used multiple times. Both of these items reduce the amount of bottles and utensils that would normally be thrown away after a single use. In California, customers are encouraged to use reusable grocery bags rather than getting a bag at the store. It is better to never have to throw something away in the first place. Austria has banned single-use items in order to reduce the amount of total waste. People should try to use old bags and packaging for other uses such as storage or crafts.
I have been aware of the issue regarding plastic pollution in our oceans. However, I did not fully appreciate the reason for all the waste until recently. Over the summer, my mom and I moved to a residential complex that does not have recycling dumpsters. In our previous single family residence, my mom and I would completely fill our 90-gallon recycling can every two weeks and only partially fill our 90-gallon trash can every month. Now, we throw out a medium bag of garbage daily and, without a receptacle for recycling, have almost quadrupled our trash since moving here. We also do not have the option to throw away our recycling at my mom’s office because there is no recycling dumpster there either. Without easy access to recycling cans, recyclable items became integrated into overall waste. I finally realized why plastic pollution was such a prevalent issue.
My belief is that if there were more recycling dumpsters, the amount of garbage would be greatly reduced and plastic waste would also decrease. There needs to be participation from companies, private citizens, and the government. In countries like Germany and South Korea, there are recycling bins everywhere that separate out products such as paper, plastic, cans, glass, and actual garbage. This maximizes the recycling by clearly defining what can be recycled and what is considered trash. Without knowing the distinctions, most people just throw away used products without thought. In addition, when there are less recycling bins everywhere, fewer people will take the energy to find a recycling bin and would rather throw any waste in the garbage because it is easier. Other countries in Europe will tax companies for their waste and/or will ban the import of plastic. Saving money is another big motivation to get people to recycle and reduce the amount of their waste.
In order to reduce the total amount of plastic in any type of waste receptacle, governments need to encourage companies to make products and packaging out of organic, biodegradable materials. These materials could include bamboo, corn starch, or cassava root. While items such as plastic water bottles can be thrown into the recycling, many plastic packaging can only be thrown in the garbage because they are made of certain chemicals that cannot be melted down and repurposed. Organic materials can be reconstituted and reused while creating less carbon emissions. By making all plastic recyclable, less plastic products will end up in the ocean.
While the plastic pollution problem will not likely be entirely reduced in our lifetime, everyone should still try to reuse and recycle. By taking the first step to reducing the amount of packaging waste in the oceans, there is hope that, one day, this problem will be less prevalent. Of course, there is still a lot of work ahead of us in order to clean up our oceans but many small steps in the right direction rather than waiting for a miracle solution can make a great difference.
Essay by: Caroline Castle
Desert Mountain High School