Imagine a terrible oil spill a hundred miles wide, crippling marine ecosystems, seen from above as an enormous black ominous shroud that begins to wash towards the shore. Everyone would know about it, it would be all over the news, the topic of all discussion, the world would become enraged. All of this said, why isn’t the same happening for plastics? After all, they’re both forms of petroleum. If, in essence, these are the same things we need to devote the same resources and attention to plastics as we do oil spills. Get them on the news, get the average person to truly care for the cause, get the funding needed to end this crisis. With the help of each individual, each company, no matter how small or large, this issue could see a rapid response unlike any other.

Circulating a need so dire as this one through the media shouldn’t be too difficult, requiring just one major event to truly stand out. Once accomplished, viewers can get behind this oceanic restoration movement. The consumers can choose to only purchase from those who use eco-friendly packaging. Companies will then be persuaded to move more to those materials as well. Funding will come from many sources, allowing teams to clean up the oceans or pay for streets and cities to be cleaned before the wastes can even make it to our beautiful waters. Media coverage allows for endless avenues of aid towards our plastic pandemic.

Along with media coverage, we also need to act swiftly concerning the coverage of our drains and water runoff. Most of the plastic that enters the ocean does so by means of these drains spread heavily across our cities. A simple plan would be to design more secure drains, instead of allowing these large openings that are incapable of filtering out nearly anything, design them to catch most common plastics and other waste while still allowing substantial water flow. Without these drains as an Autobahn to our oceans, plastic will more seldom accumulate in our waters.

Another way to keep plastics from harming our environment is to refrain from using them. Now while this may seem like common sense, we have many missed opportunities to carry out these concepts. We see time and time again, companies and individuals alike, use unwarranted amounts of packaging for small items. Package closer to the dimensions of the object and there’s less material used. We have also been given many times where cardboard or paper would work as a perfectly functioning replacement to plastics, and they are much more environmentally friendly, yet they are not used. In times where these substitutes don’t quite meet the mark, we have bioplastics. Theses plastics, made from the environment, return to the environment dealing minimal or no damage at all, the production of typical plastics is both enabling damage to our planet and using what we have carelessly. There truly should have been regulations set into place requiring the use of bioplastics over traditional petroleum ones. With the combination of these alternatives to typical plastics, there’s almost no need for petroleum plastic to ever be produced again.

The plastic waste that enters our oceans grows and grows. The need to put an end to it came long ago but is often ignored, the solution is clear. Get preventative measures in place so waste has a very difficult journey to actually make it to our waters. Eliminate the plastic usage using substitutes so that the little waste that does make it to the ocean, is nearly harmless. We’ve pushed to overcome much worse before, so let’s solve this now before it’s too late.

Essay by: Samuel A. Radcliffe
Arizona State University

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