Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese

A Plastic Ocean

trash-vortexPlastic.  It seems like just about everything we use is made of some type of plastic.  230 million tons of plastic are consumed worldwide every year.  Unfortunately, more than 90% of plastics are not recycled.  And since plastic does not biodegrade, the waste sticks around for hundreds, even thousands, of years.  This has resulted in a major ecological problem in the world’s oceans.  Pollution, along with other human action like overfishing, has put the world’s oceans in serious trouble.

While plastic does not biodegrade, it does get broken down by the sun in a process called photodegradation.  This process never breaks it down entirely, leaving tiny particles small enough to be ingested by marine life.  Scientists estimate that 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die from plastic pollution every year.  90-95% of all marine debris is plastic, and plastic accounts for 60-80% of all marine pollution.

Steps are being made.  Advocacy groups like Ocean Conservancyand the Plastiki expedition are raising awareness about the issue, and research groups like Project Kaisei and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation are adding to the body of research on marine pollution.  The story of the North Pacific Gyre, known as the Pacific Garbage Patch, has started to gain media attention.

What you can do

We can all do our part to help the ocean rebound from the invasion of plastic pollutants.  Recycling is a key component of the solution, and Seattle Pacific University has shown tremendous progress in this area.  In 1999, SPU recycled 15% of its total waste stream.  In 2007, that rate jumped to 67%.  Recycling lessens the amount of waste in landfills (and oceans) and allows materials to be reused again and again. 

Individually, there are some really easy steps we can all take to reduce our footprint and cut back on the consumption of plastics:
  • Avoid single-use plastics.  Plastic bags, bottle caps, water bottles, and Styrofoam constitute the bulk of pollution in the oceans.  Bring your own bag to the grocery store, and kee
    p a reusable water bottle handy instead of purchasing bottled water.
  • Say no to litter.  80% of marine debris comes from land, much of which can be avoided by properly disposing of trash.
  • Money talks.  It’s easy to blame consumerism for environmental problems, but consumer habits can also play a pivotal role in providing a solution.  Avoid purchasing items with excessive packaging and favor products that are manufactured with a light environmental footprint.
  • Participate in a Beach Clean-Up.  Seattle Parks and Recreation has a variety of volunteer opportunities involving restoration and cleanup projects around the area.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  It has never been more important to be mindful of our habits.  Everyone has a part in cleaning up our oceans, and it starts with the basics.


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