News, 6 June 2019
How does plastic waste end up in our oceans? While this may sound as a silly question, reality bites and plastics are starting to dominate even in the vastness of our seas.
Plastics are made to ease human life. When first thought of, they definietely were not to meant to populate and pollute our oceans. However, currently we have an estimated 150 million metric tons of plastics floating in our oceans, plus an additional 8 million metric tons each year. How come? This is the question that we are about to answer.
What is plastic in the Ocean?
Plastic in the ocean is literally plastic waste that can be found in any ocean and at its coastal areas, regardless of whether it is floating or submerged, big or small, heavy or light, round or square, it has the general plastic compounds. You name it, the ocean has it: PET bottles, plastic wrappers, home decors, biscuit packs, candy wrappers, keyboards and so much more. The list doesn’t end there. This is what we see with the naked eye, but let’s not forget about microplastics, another form of ocean waste that poses great threat to marine life, who mistakenly identify it as food. With sizes ranging from 1 to 5 millimeter, microplastics comes from 2 major sources, either from the breaking of large plastic pieces, discarded resin pellets used in the manufacturing of plastic products, or from the plastic beads found in our daily health, beauty or cleaning products. Think of your toothpaste, shampoo and detergent.
Plastic does not belong in the ocean, regardless of its shape, size and source, and forms a disaster for our marine ecosystem and the marine life that thrives within it.
How do plastics end up in the ocean?
Except in cases where you directly throw plastic overboard from a boat, the journey plastic makes in the ocean starts from land and waterways such as rivers. The reason why they end up in the ocean depends simply on the discipline of a person or local, and even national, governmental programs regarding waste management. For example, coastal habitation in third world countries have less waste collection facilities, sometimes they don’t even have any. So, instead of the waste piling up inside their houses, they either throw it directly into the surrounding rivers, lakes or shores, or just simply throw their waste outside of their premises where, overtime, the wind and the natural flow of water will take the waste out in the open sea.
For First World Countries that have an effective and established waste collection process and facility, throwing plastic improperly is not really always a problem. However, due to their financial capability, these countries buy more plastic-based products and produce more plastic waste, resulting in some of the waste possibly becoming dislodged during the collection process and it will then be released to the environment, ultimately ending up in the ocean.
While this is applicable to macroplastics, another situation is involved when we talk about microplastics or microbeads. Let’s take the case of some products with microbeads that we use on a daily basis like toothpaste, soap and shampoo. When we brush our teeth or take a bath, the microbeads in these healthcare products are washed off during rinsing and will be flushed following your septic/piping system which releases it directly to lakes, streams and rivers. This is where wastewater treatment tanks come into play, where water is treated before it is released back to the environment. However, only a fraction of the world’s population is actually doing this.
Ways to retrieve plastic out of the ocean?
There are several ways to retrieve plastic from the ocean and clean up the mess we have created. For areas near the shore, all kind of coastal clean-up projects are popular activities among different groups who combine their efforts in picking up waste that is littered along the coastline. For submerged waste especially, those that affect the reef and other delicate marine ecosystems, underwater clean-up is a popular activity conducted by scuba divers and snorkelers, where they spend the weekend picking up waste that is entangled in the reef or embedded in the seafloor.
For a wider scope and for more waste to be recovered, non-governmental organizations and environmental groups are focusing on recovering the large floating debris of waste that has already covered a portion of the world’s major ocean system.
There are also waste recovery campaigns that target specific kinds of plastic. Here in waste2wear, we are targeting used PET bottles and utilize our transparent sustainable sourcing mechanism to have a steady supply of raw materials. Coming from different parts of coastal areas in China, used PET bottles are collected, piled in bales which are transported to processing plants where they are broken down and processed into environmental friendly fabrics.
Let’s explore ways to fight ocean plastic together!