Did you know that every 5 seconds more than 60.000 single use plastic bags, and every 5 minutes over 2 million plastic bottles are used in the US alone?
That’s more than half a billion bottles every day!! It's actually hard to believe because that's more than the population of the US. And that’s only in one country! Can you just imagine how much waste that is? Unfortunately plastic consumption only increases from year to year. Plastic was only introduced to our daily lives in the middle of the last century, but since then we have managed to pollute our oceans with it on an unimaginable scale.
Just look around you. Your phone is made of plastic, the computer I am writing on is plastic, my clothes are even made out of plastic! The material's versatility, durability and low cost together with increasing over-consumerism in our societies created demand on a massive scale. A demand that became lethal to our oceans.
Each year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans.
We produce more plastic than we can handle. Plastic is non-biodegradable. Once it's discarded in the ocean, due to the long exposure of salt water, sun and other elements it breaks into pieces, sometimes smaller than a grain of sand, becoming what scientist call micro plastics. It then get swallowed by many small marine creatures, who become pray for larger animals, eventually ending up on our plates. As a result we are eating our own waste.
Why I went to Antigua
A couple of months ago I’ve received an invitation to participate in a project lead by the brand Sperry. An offer I couldn’t refuse, not only because I wanted to escape Canadian winter for a little while, shortly after chasing the northern lights in -40 degrees Celsius temperatures, but also because the expedition was for a good cause. A cause I have been interested in for quiet some time. Being a traveller, seeing the direct impact plastic has on our environment and having somewhat of an influence in virtual world, I felt like it is my responsibility to be vocal about the problem we are facing.
Through a shared passion for all things related to the ocean, Sperry partnered with the ocean conservancy and the marine research crew at Pangaea Exploration to explore the sea in search of ways that we can preserve and protect our oceans.
To kick off the partnership, Sperry invited six adventurers from around the globe, including myself, to sail around the waters of Antigua and learn about the impact of the plastic to our oceans. Between learning the basics of sailing, jumping into water from swing ropes, snorkelling and watching humpback whales from the boat we participated in brainstorming sessions together with Sperry employees to come up with ideas for better, plastic free and more sustainable future.
Both Sperry’s and Pangaea Exploration’s mission is to actively strengthen the health of marine life through adventure and education. Or, put more simply to connect people with the ocean. Our expedition took place aboard the Sea Dragon – a 72ft. vessel. During our 4 days spent on board we were taken through an immersion curriculum that taught us about the challenges plaguing the world’s oceans. Our educational sessions were lead by Dr. Stephanie Wright, who has a PhD in marine micro plastic pollution and is an environmental scientist at King’s College London, specializing in micro plastics and human health. Our discussions included everything: from talking about the challenges facing the ocean, like the accumulation of sea micro plastics, through the scientific research Pangaea does, to a brainstorming session of what can we do to make a positive impact.
“There is no away – because plastic is so permanent and so indestructible. When you cast it into the ocean, there is no away”
How bad is the plastic pollution for the environment and who is affected?
I know what you may be thinking. The oceans are vast, after all they take over 71% of earth surface so a little plastic here and there shouldn’t be a problem. However even if you don’t see it it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. One of our activities during the expedition was a beach clean up. When we were dropped off at one of Antigua’s pristine beaches on a very scarcely populated island, at first everything looked fine. However once we started walking up and down looking for rubbish, we quickly filled up more than 5 bags of trash! Some of the items were so bizarre, there was no way they were just discarded there, but rather floated here with the ocean currents. Moreover smaller pieces of plastic can travel hundreds of kilometres from the shore to inland simply blown with the wind.
It’s not only the third world countries, contrary to some beliefs, that are affected. Because of the ocean currents plastic washes ashore in places that are considered to be the most pristine in the World such as Iceland, Hawaii or Norway.
Marine wildlife is affected the most. You have probably seen videos of turtles with straws stuck in their nostrils or photos of bird carcasses decomposing on the beach with clearly visible plastic pieces in their stomachs. Since plastic is indigestible, animals who swallow it slowly die of starvation because their stomachs are literally filled with trash.
What can we do to fight the plastic pollution?
I know it all sounds daunting. After all every single day we are exposed to so many negative news we don’t know what to believe in. Trust me, I feel the same way! But you know what? It isn’t too late! Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves we should do something about it. In fact there is a lot we can do as a society to help our environment. The changes are so simple it sometimes boggles me, why are they not a part of our lives yet. During the expedition with Sperry, we have talked about many ideas, but I personally find the three below the most effective.
1. Use less packaging. When you go to the store do you really need plastic bags to separate all your vegetables? Same goes for your overall shopping. Bring reusable bags with you! Did you know that since the 5 penny charge for plastic bags was introduced in England plastic bags usage dropped by 85%!? Same goes for water bottles, coffee cups or plastic cutlery. Single use plastic items are the worst pollutant and it is really easy to eliminate them from your daily life. Remember that recycling only goes so far and it’s a short term solution to a long term problem.
2. Be a smart consumer. Remember that brands react to consumer choices. Support brands that do something good for the environment. Stop chasing after cheap fashion and start investing into products that will last long term and not just until 1st wash.
3. Limit your consumption! I receive many e-mails asking me how I can afford my travelling lifestyle. Here is the truth. I don’t spend money on crap! My possessions fit into a suitcase and a backpack. I often buy second hand clothing and other items. Mindless consumption is not cool, and I am so happy to see millions of young people are realizing it too.
I am really hoping the technology will catch up very soon and our plastic consumption, instead of growing, will drop down from year to year. I have seen some really cool inventions that pop up on my facebook feed every day. However instead of waiting for that to happen we can all bring positive change to plastic pollution today! And if you think that us, as individuals, don't matter here is something for you to think about:
If you think you are too small to make a difference try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito - African proverb
Further resources for those who care
I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the problem. If you are interested in learning more and taking some action visit the websites and read the articles below:
- Plastic Ocean's - a must watch documentary
- 10 ways to reduce plastic pollution
- Plastic free July initiative
- Report: Plastic pollution in the ocean is reaching crisis levels
What do you think about the plastic pollution? Have you been directly impacted? Would you be willing to make changes in your lifestyle if you knew it's going to help our Oceans? Comment below.
Disclaimer: My trip to Antigua was sponsored by Sperry.pl, however all opinions and my willingness to publish the article was entirely up to me.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since
I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.