Plastic waste reduction…are we too late?

Abundance…but at what price?

High season is nearly over!

Cancun and the Riviera Maya go through this period every year and without fail (thankfully for all of us making a living here), tourists from all over the world come to visit our incredible beaches and vast vacation offer.

It’s a time of abundance and work. Unfortunately, it also comes at a price. Even though plastic waste reduction has lately become more relevant, we are still a long way from overcoming this terrible epidemic. Here’s what I mean…

A few days ago, I finally returned to the beach which my wife and I love very much. It is located 10 minutes from our home. It was our day off so we decided to go early with our dogs and later on for breakfast at a small local restaurant we like very much.

Having lived in the area for nearly 20 years now, we knew that with our walk, would come the notorious appearance of trash washed up on shore. This has just been so for the amount of time living here.

This season, however, was starkly different.

The number of plastic objects washed up on shore was more than we had ever found before.

Due to our current jobs, we don’t get out to the beach as much as we should. We normally take “stock” on just how much trash and refuse washes up on our beaches.

Having made inquiries to the local lifeguarding staff and the beach clean-up crew, they confirmed that the amount of trash washed up during this 2018 season was alarmingly high.

They even showed us what they had recollected that morning.

Among the plastic bottles and bags and other refuse in general, 2 rubber duckies and one ice hockey glove…seriously? The duckies we could understand (well, sort of)…but the ice hockey glove??

I decided to investigate a bit further as to how an ice hockey glove ended on our favorite beach.

And what I found out was shocking.

Hard facts to consider…

More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced around the world each year.

Only 10% of that is being recycled!

Billions of plastic bottles and trillions (that’s with a “t”) of plastic bags end up creating literal mountains of plastic waste found in our planet’s largest landfills.

According to a report from the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research institute devoted to the analysis of global environmental concerns, many of these bottles and bags (10 to 20 million tons, find their way into our world’s oceans.

More alarming facts…

50 billion plastic water bottles are produced in the US alone every year. If you were to stack these bottles end to end, they would stretch the distance from the earth to the moon more than 26 times or wrap around the earth more than 250 times!

And nothing seems to be slowing down this plastic binge.

The North Atlantic Gyre…one of five…

So how do 3.5 million tons of garbage (80% being plastic) end up floating lazily around our world’s oceans and where does it all end up eventually?

Have a look at this amazing GIF taken from the scientific website plasticadrift.org.

Consider one of the locations of this natural occurrence: the Atlantic Ocean.

Shipping lanes traverse these vast waters and everything, from food to plastic bottles, wrappings, bags, and all kinds of refuse, fall into these waters.

Below you can see the main shipping lanes of our planet. Pay special attention to the Atlantic shipping lanes. It’s no wonder our oceans are chocking in plastic pollution!

Now imagine a large cargo ship losing its containers to a storm (not a frequent incident, thank Goodness, but it does happen).

All those items, including rubber duckies (and hockey gloves), are lost in the storm and eventually end up in the vast North Atlantic Gyre. That’s a bit on the extreme side. It is the day to day disposal of plastics and their by-products that is simply unsustainable any more!

There they may remain for years (some gyres complete a rotation every 6.5 years!) until they reach the outer bands of the gyre, where they are snatched by other oceanic currents and eventually end up washed up on many of our world’s beaches.

Such was the case with the refuse we were shown, having washed up somewhere from the deep Atlantic on to our local beach, 10 minutes away from our home.

Ravenous hunger for plastics results in graver consequences…

The unfortunate fact is that our endless hunger for plastics is not exclusive to our oceans. The extent of the damage we are causing goes well beyond that.

At the microscopic level, the use of cosmetics and cleaning products have also had an adverse effect. These products are made up of micro-plastics (tiny beads of plastic which are added to improve their abrasiveness). These micro-plastics end up being flushed down drains.

They are so small that modern sewage systems are unable to remove them from drain tubing. Instead, they flow out and end up in shallow waters, mostly on the surface, where they collect contaminants which affect the planktonic food chain.

According to another report from Worldwatch Institute (2015):

“Approximately 10 to 20 million tons (9.1 to 18.1 million metric tons [mt]) of plastic ends up in the oceans each year. A recent study conservatively estimated that 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing a total of 268,940 tons (243,978 mt) are currently floating in the world’s oceans. This plastic debris results in an estimated $13 billion a year in losses from damage to marine ecosystems, including financial losses to fisheries and tourism, as well as time spent cleaning beaches.”

And most recently, Kathleen Rogers, the Earth Day Network’s President has this to say about plastic pollution (2018):

“From poisoning and injuring marine life to the ubiquitous presence of plastics in our food to disrupting human hormones and causing major life-threatening diseases and early puberty, the exponential growth of plastics is threatening our planet’s survival”.

As if that were not enough, plastics threaten our ocean’s wildlife, such as seabirds, sea lions, whales, fish, and dolphins, through entanglement in plastic matter such as netting, ropes, and packaging materials.

Also, microparticles and microbes adhere to floating debris which can enter local ecosystems, damaging wildlife in non-native regions.

So what can we do?…really.

For starters, restrain the unnecessary use of plastic bags and increase our efforts at recyclingreally.

Easier said than done. I myself have tried to commit to a serious recycling effort, but have fallen short. After this article, however, I now realize that there is no turning back.

The numbers are staggering and it’s not getting better any time soon.

We must commit, in heart, mind, and soul, to reduce our plastic footprint and do all we can to acquire a recycling culture, not as a fad or trend, but as a lifestyle.

Do you have a recycling program where you live? More importantly, are you actively finding ways to be informed and aware of how to minimize the indiscriminate use of plastic products? What strategies have you put in place and are they working?

 

I hope you have found this article useful. It is so important that we become accountable and involved in protecting our planet, both in and out of the water, from plastic pollution.

What do you think? Are we still in time?

I’m an optimist.

We are gradually coming to terms with the consequences of our actions. It’s finally happening.

Better late than ever, I guess.

Please leave your comments below. I will be happy to follow up and share them with our Sentinel community around the world.

Thank you for reading and talk soon!