It is impossible not to be aware of the great catastrophe caused by plastic in the oceans. In Portugal and around the world, there is a lot of news, statistics, increasingly terrifying stories that come to us and it’s easily detectable the consequences that this type of pollution of the oceans has on our planet and species.
What are the consequences of plastic in the oceans?
If we have known so far that many species are victims of the plastic we use and discard – it is estimated that around 90% of the world’s seabirds have plastic fragments in their stomachs. Recent studies indicate that it is not just the other species that suffer the consequences of plastic pollution.
A recent study by WWF tells us that each person is currently ingesting 50,000 plastic particles a year, the same as the weight of a credit card every week.
More than entanglement and physical problems for species, this plastic pollution of the oceans is also very toxic to the various ecosystems where these fragments are found, including our own bodies and health.
In addition to the consequences on our economy, with the estimated cost of marine litter at around € 600 million (according to the European Parliament), these disposable behaviors also have a huge impact on air pollution, global warming, and climate change – it is estimated that in carbon emissions, recycling 1 million tonnes of plastic is equivalent to removing 1 million cars from the road.
Ocean Plastic: What Can I Do?
Of all waste found at sea, about 80% is plastic: 49% is disposable plastic, 27% is plastic waste from fishing equipment and 6% refers to other plastics. And while we can no longer get around the problem and remove all the plastic we have deposited in the oceans over the last 100 years, it is becoming increasingly important to prevent more plastic from entering our seas.
It is not just a matter of knowing how to recycle and dispose of waste in the right places: it is now essential to be proactive in reducing, refusing and in many cases, replacing it.
Below are 10 convenient and affordable replacement suggestions for the most commonly found plastic waste in the oceans.
- Plastic bottles and caps
According to the European Union, this is the most commonly found plastic waste in the ocean – the “famous” plastic bottle. However, there is something as famous as the plastic disposable bottles: its reusable and environmentally friendly alternatives.
In fact, there are no direct benefits on using plastic disposable bottles – they are more expensive, less environmentally friendly and healthy (bottled water on average contains 22 times more microplastics than tap water).
To answer this problem, there are many projects and solutions that have come up, presenting several options of reusable bottles in various materials, from stainless steel to glass (or even safe and resistant plastic, one of the most affordable on the market).
2. Cigarette Butts
The number 2 of the most common plastic waste found in the oceans is cigarette butts – with an estimated 7,000 butts thrown to the ground per minute, not surprisingly.
However, the paradigm is about to change: at least in Portugal, this topic has been in the public order with many people showing support for the government’s recent move of start fining cigarette butts on the floor.
If plastic is worrisome because it is toxic, cigarette butts rise on the scale with more than 4,000 toxic and chemical substances that contaminate the various ecosystems and species with which they come in contact.
Quitting smoking can be tricky and the habit of the cigarette butt on the floor is still dominant, so choose to always have an eco-friendly portable ashtray with you and thus prevent this plastic waste from reaching our ocean.
3. Cotton Swabs
The third most common waste found in our seas and oceans is the common cotton swab, which, although not recommended by the medical community or the “environmental community”, are still widely used by many people.
This is a waste that does not reach the sea in the usual way (through wind or water in public spaces), but rather through the giant number of people who still see the toilet as a convenient waste bin – this has to change.
To avoid plastic swabs in the oceans, you always have other options like biodegradable bamboo swabs that can have the same use with much less negative impact.
You can also enjoy and replace your toothbrush! Although not one of the most commonly found plastics in the seas, ordinary toothbrushes turn out to be an unnecessary landfill pollutant – there are many better alternatives available.
4. French fries packs and candy wrappers
At this point, there is no turning back. While many brands are already starting to worry about developing more environmentally friendly packaging, most of them will have a complete transition in many years.
What can be done now is to refuse brands and products with little responsible packaging, to prefer more sustainable packaging or products from companies with responsibility for their waste, and, if it’s not too much to ask, to choose healthier foods whenever possible.
5. Intimate Hygiene Products
Still on the topic “the toilet is not a rubbish bin” comes number 5 on our list of most commonly found plastic waste in the oceans. At this topic, most of this waste is tampons and sanitary towels.
It is estimated that a woman will use about 1.6 km of hygienic tampons in her lifetime – if these wastes are not thought out responsibly, the damage to the environment is enormous.
What is certain is that non-plastic alternatives exist and are increasingly present in the lives of many women (including Portuguese) with reusable sanitary towels and natural menstrual cups to be increasingly considered as solutions.
In addition to these, the bandages also appear as waste in the seas, despite the very interesting alternatives that are already available: as a biodegradable bandage with aloe vera or activated charcoal, for example.
6. Plastic bags
The sixth most commonly found plastic waste in the ocean is one of the most popular: we cannot deny the strong campaign that big retail stores have adopted in recent years against thin plastic bags and the successful results that this action has had in using these disposable options.
While general shopping can already be done in many ways, for grocery shopping, fruits and vegetables are still many people giving in to the old disposable plastic bag. To counteract this, you can easily embrace reusable bags, either reusable mesh bags for fruit or vegetables, or plain reusable bags for bulk shopping or local bakery – in some bulk stores you can even use old jars that you have at home.
7. Cutlery, straws and small spoons
Despite this latest trend that has made many bars and events adopt reusable cups, there are still many venues that make disposable plastic cups available to their customers and employees. However, changing this disposable idea is becoming easier and easier.
Whether replacing plastic water glasses with a reusable bottle or replacing all other disposable glasses with a reusable glass and/or thermos – that more than plain water can handle coffee, tea or other beverages at any temperature.
Although reusable is the solution, if there are situations where you can’t make this change easily, opt for compostable and biodegradable cups, which ensure the same convenience with far less impact on the environment.
9. Balloons and Balloon Sticks
They are beautiful, fun, and make a party look difficult to forget. However, they are not recyclable and in many cases do not even see any container. They are simply useless and unnecessary.
Without them will you let the party die? Of course not. Try to decorate your party or opt for more environmentally friendly alternatives.
So the next time you see someone launching a balloon in the air looking for luck, warn them that it will end up in the ocean and that the only effect it will have is to contribute to the bad luck of all species on planet earth.
10. Food containers, including fast food packaging
What more can I do?
Before you make your substitutions, look at your routine and think about what you can really refuse and stop using – is it so different to drink directly from the glass without the need for a straw?
In addition, it is important to be proactive, inspire others to take action, report and educate those who have not yet woken up to these issues and do our best to make our lives (and those around us) ever more environmentally friendly, dignifying, responsible and conscious.