Turning the tide on ocean plastic

Photo by Christoffer Engström on Unsplash

A multi-purpose trip

I had the pleasure of discovering the beauty of Cornwall with colleagues. We explored the town of Newquay, surfed (at least tried to!) and participated in a beach clean up.

The clean up was organised through Surfers Against Sewage, an environmental charity focusing on protecting oceans, beaches and wildlife.

One of their many initiatives, the Million Mile Clean, inspires people to connect with the shared objective of making the United Kingdom a cleaner and greener place for people to enjoy.

Since the start of the project, 4126 cleanups have been organised, with more than 140,000 volunteers participating and collecting nearly 400,000 kgs of rubbish.

You expect to see cans left behind or cigarette butts in the sand, but the most shocking item was the number of tiny bits of plastic found near the ocean or on the beach.

The team involved in the Cornwall beach clean up!

After a couple of hours of walking from beach to beach and scrutinising the sand for any piece of trash, we managed to collect four bags of various items, from discarded combs to fishing equipment.

I’d highly recommend participating in any form of clean up in your community. It could help you meet like-minded people, engage in meaningful conversations and do good while working towards your daily 10,000 steps!

A rubbish problem

We can pat ourselves on the back for what we did but tackling marine plastic pollution requires the joint involvement of governments, corporations and individual consumers.

Plastics are often demonised but without them, we wouldn’t be able to benefit from the same living standards. Plastics are needed for medical devices that save lives, insulation to make buildings more energy-efficient, and equipment protecting human health.

Their convenience can be overshadowed by the waste they create, especially with single-use plastics. Of the 300 million tons of plastic produced globally, nearly 5% of it makes its way into the oceans every year. As a result, 80% of marine litter is plastic. This plastic harms wildlife as species such as turtles and dolphins get entangled in plastic debris or ingest it.

More widely, the plastics industry is responsible for 232 million tons of greenhouse gases every year in the United States alone. This equates to 3 times the annual emissions of Colombia! With plastic production expected to double by 2050, this could lead to the yearly release of 2.8 billion tons of CO2e, the sum of Russia and India’s current annual emissions.

Waving goodbye to plastic pollution

You got it with the numbers. It’s a massive issue to tackle! In the face of such a scale, it’s normal to ask ourselves if it is worth doing anything on an individual level or if our actions can drive any form of change.

However, I believe that top-down and ground-up initiatives must meet each other halfway. As consumers and citizens, we need to signal to corporations and governments that we want them to tackle the issue. On the other hand, these parties have to make it easy and affordable for people to take individual climate action.

Individuals are powerful as we can:

  • Ensure we are recycling our waste correctly by educating ourselves about how to do so
  • Reducing our consumption of single-use plastics whenever possible
  • Organise or participate in cleanups to remove debris from the environment

Collectively, our advocacy is stronger as it creates ripple effects of positive climate action as we:

  • Signal to corporations that there is consumer demand for lower-carbon, reusable and sustainable packaging
  • Petition governments for better recycling and waste disposal regulations
  • Support non-profit organisations that are tackling ocean plastic pollution head-on

The growing tide of climate action

It’s incredibly encouraging to see more and more people talking about climate change and to hear about the commitments companies are taking to decarbonise their operations and supply chains. Talk is good, action is better!

As individuals, we can vote with our purchasing power, highlighting to companies pushing for climate action that we support their mission. When it comes to addressing ocean plastic, 4ocean is one of the companies to applaud.

Founded by Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper in 2015, 4ocean is on a mission to end the ocean plastic crisis. With vessels to recover plastics in marine environments and professional clean up crews, they ensure that ocean plastic is recovered every day of the week.

How do they fund these operations? The company manufacturers and sells products made from the recycled plastic they recover. Some of their products include plastic alternatives such as reusable bottles, bags or cups. Through these products, they aim to raise awareness about the ocean plastic crisis and reduce people’s dependence on single-use plastics.

4ocean commits to pulling one pound of trash from oceans, rivers, and coastlines for each product purchased. Since 2017, they have pulled 10,501,241 kg of waste. That would equate to the annual single-plastic waste generated by nearly 200,000 Americans. Not bad for a single company!

As a Certified B Corporation, they are walking the talk, highlighting that they meet the highest standards of verified environmental and social performance. Committed to 1% for the planet, 4ocean has donated more than 1 million dollars to organisations supporting the oceans since 2017.

I hope you have learned a thing or two in this article but more importantly, I hope the 4ocean story will inspire you to join, support or even create mission-driven organisations. We’re going to need a lot of them!

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