Plastic pollution is not the responsibility of just one person, one company, or one country. Plastic pollution is a global crisis facing our ocean – one that we are all responsible for. Even if you do not litter, even if you dispose of all your waste plastic correctly and think you are living reasonably sustainably, as a consumer you do share the responsibility for the waste generated in the production, and the disposal chains. We’ve already stressed the need to get over consumerism, but let’s talk about cleaning up that mess more directly. Join an environmental clean-up!
What can I do?
Simply support any local beach, river, waterway or other environmental cleanup in your area. Even if nothing is formally organised, simply picking up a few pieces of litter when you’re out and about makes a big difference! Here’s why:
- Every time you pick up litter, you are reminded of how our plastic addictions contribute to this global problem.
- Every time you pick up litter, you acknowledge your role in being part of the solution rather than the problem.
- Many initiatives are citizen-science programmes which means that, by picking up litter, you are contributing to research in determining where the pollution originates from.
- When you join an environmental clean-up, you get to spend time with cool communities of like-minded individuals who care for the planet just like you.
- Joining a beach clean-up allows you to do your bit to create plastic-free oceans, and it is good for the soul when you contribute to something positive.
- It’s fun!
Why does it matter?
Every year over eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans. That’s the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic offloading into the sea every single minute of the day. A lot of it lands up back on our beaches. Scientific research carried out by the University of Cape Town shows that as much as 94% of the litter on South African beaches is made of plastic, and scarily, the volume of this litter daily in Table Bay tripled between 1994 and 2011.
We all need to do at least one thing to change the trajectory that the current plastic pollution problem is on. You might think that your small contribution isn’t going to make a difference, but if many people make many small contributions, like joining a beach clean-up, it adds up to a large impact. Choose to be part of the solution, rather than the problem.
Finally, when you join an environmental clean-up, although the physical impacts can be short-lived if they aren’t repeated, studies prove that the psychological impacts are great. Studies definitively show that cleanups improve public perception and awareness of the plastic pollution problem, and encourage them to find solutions in other ways. Plus – being outdoors is always great!
Myth-busting: There is an island of trash in the ocean
There is an unfortunate myth that there is a huge island of plastic floating out in the ocean (there isn’t). Some people try to use the absence of this mythical island as proof that the issue of ocean plastic pollution is over-hyped. However, even though there is no island of plastic, the reality is far worse.
What we have is a “soup” of plastic – billions of large pieces of plastic drifting in massive ocean currents known as gyres, while an endless rain of trillions of particles of microplastic settle on the seafloor beneath them. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the northern Pacific Ocean is the largest and best known of these soups, others exist in all the oceans, including those surrounding South Africa. Unfortunately, these soups are not going to be easy to clean up (as the recent failure of The Ocean Cleanup proved), making it even more important that we stop plastic flowing into the ocean in the first place.
Who can I follow?
Check out your local river clean up initiative – every city and coastal community likely has dozens!
In Cape Town, you can join an environmental clean-up, specifically a beach clean-up, hosted by The Beach Co-op. They are a big player in terms of coastal cleanups, and the Two Oceans Aquarium’s Trash Bash supports that. It’s also worth checking out Sea The Bigger Picture, Clean-C, The Future Kids Club, Helderberg Ocean Awareness Movement and KZN Beach Clean Up.
The Litterboom Project is taking innovative strides to intercept and remove litter from various polluted rivers in KZN and Cape Town. They use long booms to catch this plastic which is then retrieved either for recycling or to be filed down and mixed with an aggregate to turn that waste into building blocks or pavers for communities. Rivers are the veins that carry plastic waste from the land into the sea.