The Ocean is a beautiful and mysterious place, full of wildlife vastly different than anything anyone could ever imagine. One might take a look at the variety of wildlife contained within these vast bodies of water and think that they’re invincible.

Unfortunately, they are not. Each year, over one hundred thousand marine mammals die from non-reusable packaging that has been discarded into the oceans- and that number only accounts for those mammals who were documented. In addition to the mammals, over one million seabirds are also killed each year from pollutants (such as packaging waste) contaminating their food sources or hunting grounds.

With such grim numbers, you may be asking yourself, is there anything we can do to help protect our beautiful oceans? As a matter of fact, there is- and it starts with significantly reducing the usage of non-reusable and non-biodegradable products, such as plastic and styrofoam packaging. In exchange for these pollutants, more environmentally friendly options can be used as a means of packaging, such as recycled newspaper shreds. Nationally, over 56 million newspapers are sold daily. On Sundays, over 60 million are sold. Whereas some of these consumers are environmentally conscious, the vast majority of these papers unfortunately wind up in the trash, where they will most likely meet their unsavory demise buried in a landfill. However, this could be resolved- if it were possible to instill a program that bought back newspapers for half or even three quarters of the original cost of the newspaper from the consumer, these papers could be amassed, shredded, then distributed to large distribution companies, and used as an alternative to plastic bubble wrap or styrofoam packing peanuts. The biodegradability of the paper would mean that in the event that this type of packaging found its way into a large waterway, or even the ocean, it would decompose instead of remaining in the ocean for an undetermined amount of time, potentially harming marine life.

What’s the best way to get rid of an issue? Stop doing whatever causes that issue. In this instance, it means stopping the use of excessive packaging altogether, in favor of more form-fitting boxes.

Allow me to pose you a scenario. You’re shopping for a new computer online- say, a laptop. You find the one you want, you order it, and call it a day. When your laptop arrives, does it arrive only in the box that the manufacturer? Of course not. You have to first open the shipping box from the distributor, then after having dug through mountains of plastic and styrofoam packaging you find your laptop. But the fun doesn’t end there- once you open the actual laptop box, there’s more styrofoam and plastic. What’s the need for all of this? From an environmentalist’s perspective, there is none.

At this point, you’re probably wondering, how might something like this be changed? Well, allow me to inform you. Not only could the packaging that the distributor uses (such as the box that the actual product goes in and the packaging around it) be eliminated, but the packaging from the manufacturer of the product could be much more efficient, as well. It could be designed to be form fitting around the product, similar to what the Swedish furniture company IKEA does with their packaging. This way, plastic and styrofoam reinforcements within the packaging would not be needed, and the small size of the package would be much more environmentally friendly to ship.

To wrap things up, for the sake of our oceans and the beauty contained within them, it is imperative that we are conscious about how we use our resources, in particular, the non-reusable packaging used to send and deliver goods. By seeking more renewable and environmentally friendly packaging and by minimizing the size of packages being sent, we can effectively reduce the amount of waste in our oceans, and preserve the life within them.

Essay by: Matthew Spanhake
Edina High School

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