• Prevention Better than the Cure for Plastic in the Ocean

Water/Wastewater

Prevention Better than the Cure for Plastic in the Ocean

Mar 24 2016

Last year, International Coastal Cleanup Day saw a staggering 560,000 volunteers from almost 100 countries around the world collect more than 7,200 tonnes of waste from beaches all over the globe. This waste consists largely of plastic products that are consumed and discarded every day of our lives, with much of it finding its way into the oceans and seas of the world.

Once present, the plastic can upset ecosystems and poison wildlife, causing significant damage to the flora and fauna which call the water their home. Furthermore, the effects of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and the force of the tidal currents breaks this waste down over time into micro- and nano-plastics, which are incredibly difficult to remove or even detect.

How to Remove the Plastic

Now that we are aware of the seemingly insurmountable problem facing our planet’s oceans, there has been a flood of ideas of how to clean up the waters. Among others, these include:

  • Marine drones to provide detailed information about the waste
  • Vast manmade drains to suck all of the plastic from the oceans
  • The use of bioengineered microorganisms to break the plastics down
  • Conversion of the plastics into a ‘Recycled Island’ which could theoretically be inhabitable by humans
  • The installation of a giant filter on the seabed

Though these ideas could all produce varying degrees of success, they would all undoubtedly be incredibly costly and could even produce more pollution through their implementation. Pursuing avenues such as these ignores the real problem – that of continually pumping such waste into our oceans in the first place.

If we could prevent the plastics from ever making it to the ocean, that would certainly be a far more desirable solution to the problem. How could this be achieved?

Achieving Prevention

The key to preventing our waters becoming inundated with plastic waste is twofold. One the hand, we must attempt to recycle and reuse all of those plastic products we consume as much as possible. Investigations into determining the value of waste materials as fuel feedstock using microanalysis (including, but not limited to, plastics) represents an important course of action in increasing our ability to reduce the waste we produce.

However, we must also remember that plastics are designed to endure for decades or even centuries in the environment. With this in mind, we should all be striving to reduce our consumption of such materials. In some cases, this has been enforced by legislative bodies. For example, the US government recently passed the Microbead Free Waters Act, banning pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies from including microplastics and nanoplastics in toothpastes, shampoos and other personal care products.

On another level, reducing our consumption of plastic is a purely personal choice. As early as 2009, Britons were being encouraged to use cloth bags instead of plastic ones when they made their regular trip to the shop or supermarket. If plastics were really necessary, shoppers were urged to use those from a previous visit rather than simply acquire new ones. Today, of course, we must pay every time we receive a new plastic bag, thus incentivising the reduction, reuse and recycling of plastic.

With plastic such an ever-present in today’s society, it’s difficult to imagine how or if we will ever be able to eradicate it from our daily lives. However, we can certainly do our own bit to try and help the world’s oceans by cutting down on the amount we use and recycling all that we do.


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