The murky truth about Ocean Plastic

Clear Ocean Water

In the last few years, there’s been a groundswell of interest in the amount of plastic in our oceans. But most of us still don’t know how huge the problem is – or what we as individuals can do to help fix it.

National hero Sir David Attenborough, whose 2017 series Blue Planet II played a large part in this public interest, perhaps put it best. “We have to act now to try and clear up some of the appalling damage we have made to the ocean,” he said. “And that is going to require positive action.”

But before we can take positive action, we need to understand the negatives we’re taking action against. That means a deep dive into how plastic actually ends up in our oceans in the first place.

Diver underwater with plastic waste finger up

How does plastic end up in the ocean?

Our oceans have a huge plastic problem. And while documentaries like Netflix’s Seaspiracy have shone a much-needed light on the damage fishing is doing to our seas, Greenpeace has noted that only about 10% of discarded plastic in the ocean is fishing nets.

The rest? Rubbish that was never supposed to be in the ocean in the first place. Despite the natural assumption that most marine plastic must have been dumped at sea, thrown overboard or left by lazy sailors, WWF report that 80% of plastic in our oceans is actually from land sources.

So, how does it get there? Simple: it’s light. When you bin plastic that could have been recycled, it gets transported to landfill – and because plastic is so lightweight, it’ll often get blown away on the way and end up in drains or rivers and, eventually, the ocean.

The same goes for litter, which is often washed into sewers or streams by rainwater. And recycling isn’t the answer, either. A major study published by the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances suggested that 91% of “recycling” is never recycled, meaning your good intentions are just as bad as sending your plastic straight to landfill.

Of course, another common way of waste ending up in the ocean is when you flush it down the drain yourself. While the UK government rightly made waves for their decision to outlaw harmful plastic microbeads in 2018, there’s still a major issue with flushed wet wipes, sanitary products and other unflushables ending up in the ocean after the chain’s been pulled.

How bad is the ocean plastics problem?

It’s pretty bad. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, plastic waste is entering the ocean at a rate of about 11 million metric tons every single year – and if we don’t act soon to stem that flow, that amount could nearly triple by 2040.

There are myriad reasons why we don’t want that to happen. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) say that waste plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris, “from surface waters to deep-sea sediments,” and that plastic pollution “threatens ocean health, food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.”

Plastic does this in a number of ways. Perhaps the most alarming – and, hence, the one you’re most likely to be familiar with – is by interfering with ocean-dwelling animals. From turtles trapped in plastic zip-ties to whales and fish swallowing plastic they’ve mistaken for food, it’s common for sea animals to die of starvation because their stomachs are filled with plastic debris.

Invisible plastic and its carcinogenic chemicals also find their way into everything from our seafood to our tap water, threatening not only the lives of our marine animals but our own lives, too. Plastic is bad for us, bad for animals, and bad for the ocean itself. According to ocean charity Parley, “We are facing the potential extinction of many sea life species and the interruption of the entire ecosystem.”

Beautiful Beach

What can I do to help?

There’s a long-running joke that millennials will pat themselves on the back for fixing the marine plastic problem by switching to paper straws. Yet while straws are indeed a drop in the ocean as far as the issue is concerned, those ditching them have the right idea: we’ll only fix the problem if we make positive switches, away from plastic.

A world without plastic might seem absurd, but Parley is so sure of the idea that they’ve created a three-step manifesto for ditching the stuff altogether. Step one involves avoiding plastic wherever possible, step two is all about intercepting plastic waste, and step three focuses on redesigning the materials themselves – ideally from up-cycled marine plastic waste.

Of course, if you’re not an inventor, you can still adopt a mindset that kicks single-use plastic to the curb. The best way of doing so is by embracing a circular economy – instead of buying new products swathed in single-use plastic, you reuse your old bottles and cartons to live by creating almost zero harmful waste.

That’s what we’re doing, here at Circla. By spearheading a refill revolution, we’re putting the brakes on the amount of plastic our customers are sending towards the high seas. One refill at a time, we’re creating a healthy new world not just without single-use plastic, but without single-use… anything. 

Shop now and join the refill revolution with our range of all-natural, plastic-free products in refillable containers. 

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