Saturday, September 16th was designated as the International Coastal Cleanup Day, and shortly some colleagues from our other offices will share updates and photos from their events. Here in the North American office, we were unable to host a coastal cleanup due to our annual fundraising event Expedition: White Sharks and Whales which took place on the same day. However, we have a few ongoing efforts to prevent marine pollution, and more specifically, plastic pollution. The blog below was written by one of our interns, Monica Ponzi, who joined us in July from Italy.
Our attraction to plastic, together with its over-consumption and worldwide littering is leading to the continuously increasing problem of plastic pollution. We come into contact with plastic every single day and it seems like we are not able to live without it anymore. Most people, however, never seem to ask themselves a very important question. Where does all this plastic end up after we throw it away in our bin?
Although more and more countries and organizations seem to have increased their litter prevention and recycling efforts, most of our plastic will, at some stage, end up in our waterways. It is estimated that in 2016 alone, between 19 and 23 million metric tonnes of plastic entered aquatic ecosystems (both fresh and marine waters).
If you are reading this, plastic pollution most likely impacts you! Plastics can cause threats to the environment, its species and to all living beings who depend on water systems for survival. Due to its non-biodegradable characteristics and its dangerous chemicals, marine life may potentially become entangled or die after ingesting plastic. During our time on the water, we often see whales swimming in close proximity to polluted plastic. Since this area is a feeding ground for many species of large whales, we can only imagine how much plastic they accidentally ingest while catching their schools of prey.
Plastic Oceans estimates that around 500 billion plastic consumer carryout bags are used worldwide per year. The use of these single-use plastic bags is one of the most common "bad habits" and frankly speaking, it is one of the easiest things for us to work on and change!
Numerous countries have reduced or completely banned the use of single-use plastic bags, being recognized as the cause of many environmental problems. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, where our North American office is located, a plastic bag ban became effective on the 21st of February 2017, stating that “establishments in the town of Plymouth can only provide Reusable Carryout Bags or Paper bags”; the violation of this rule will lead to specific penalties. While it is taking some adjusting in everyday life, it is hoped that this ban will increase people’s knowledge and awareness regarding this topic.
This is only one of many rules and regulations that could be enforced around the world in order to reduce the degradation of the environment. Coming from Italy and having lived there my whole life, it is very obvious to me that the interest and efforts of the general population towards recycling and the environment is much higher here in Plymouth than it is back home.
There is still so much that can be done and it all starts with the actions of the common people. If the Italian community, for example, simply put a little more effort into recycling, that would already make an enormous difference- people don't even realize how much!
Did you know recycling waste materials (e.g. plastic bottles, magazines etc.) also saves energy? This energy can then be translated into electricity use, using a calculation tool provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. We recycle our own office materials, and additionally we collect, count, and sort recycling from our whale watching partners, Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises. Check out the illustration below to see how much energy we saved by recycling with them last year. For any teachers out there, this may be a fun project to do with your classroom!
This tool clearly illustrates one of many positive impacts of recycling and will hopefully lead to an increased concern and effort by people all around the world. A single person making a change to their everyday habits will automatically affect those around them and this can only lead to a positive change in our collective future.
Recycling is definitely the way forward, so make sure you follow your local recycling guidelines. Imagine how much better off we all would be if we could ban single-use plastic bags worldwide!