Plastic Pollution, how can we reduce it?

June 8th marked World Ocean’s Day, and with it the reminder to really think about our oceans and the impact we have on them through plastic pollution.

As we know, plastic pollution is a huge issue worldwide with estimates of up to 8 million tonnes of plastic making its way into waterways each year. This marine debris can now be found from the ocean’s surface down to the deep sea, with a plastic bag finding its way down to 36,000 feet (10,975 metres) in the Mariana Trench.

80567577 109565613891499 5984115652196040704 o photo credit to Huw Penson

The growth of plastic pollution

Whilst the introduction of plastic bags came in the 1950’s, the use of plastic increased significantly in the 1980’s when it became easier to produce different types of polymers. From there plastic became a ubiquitous part of everyday life. From the moment we wake up and brush our teeth, the food we consume and the products we use. Plastic is everywhere and unfortunately we don’t always consider where the plastic ends up or just how much it has infiltrated our lives.

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photo credit to Huw Penson

 

As a child growing up, I remember every Saturday we would venture to the seaside and in that trip we would be treated to some chips on the beach, some sweets and a movie. Now you are probably sitting here thinking well that’s nice but why is that relevant. Well here is why….

The chips came in paper wrapping with a wooden fork chips

The sweets came in a paper bag

The drink in a can

But as I grew up times changed, 

The chips came in polystyrene boxes with a plastic fork,

The sweets then came wrapped in plastic

The drink then came in a bottle or with a plastic straw.

 

Where does the plastic pollution end up? 

As a westerner I am the first to admit that growing up that I took for granted the amount of trash and plastics we were using in our household. The rubbish went into a bin and I knew someone somewhere would take care of it. As I grew up and became more aware of how much plastic was being used, I started to think more about where that trash was ending up and what we as a family could do to reduce our waste. But, honestly, it wasn’t until moving to the island of Koh Tao at the beginning of 2015 that I really understood the problems we have globally.

Here I was on a paradise island in the Indo-Pacific, and from the surface it was pristine, but when I looked closer the island living meant that the trash we produced didn’t actually go anywhere. The increase in visitors had led to a significant increase in the level of trash that was being produced, and unlike back home where it was taken away, on an island this small the evidence was everywhere.  On the road, on the beach, in the sea.


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 When doing beach clean-ups it is astonishing how much plastic pollution washes up from the waves, how much trash accumulates around mooring lines and how much can be seen on dives and snorkel trips.Our friends over at Save The Plastic have been doing some incredible work looking at this accumulation within the Indo-Pacific. 
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photo credit to Huw Penson

Beach cleans and land clean ups were especially eye opening, as the number of trash bags pile up with everything that has been removed. It isn’t just large pieces either, those are the easiest to remove but it is the small pieces that plastic especially have broken down into, the polystyrene balls or the nurdles that mix with the sand making it incredibly difficult to remove. However it isnt just the usual plastic pollution causing problems, check out Conservation Diver and their article on the impact cigarette filters are also having. 

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photo credit to Huw Penson

Another eye opening moment came when working with marine life. Seeing the number of sea turtles that are affected by this increase is unbelievable. It is now estimated that 50% of all living sea turtles have some form of plastic within the stomach or the gut. Micro plastics are now in every level of the marine food web. So anything that is eaten in the ocean (this includes the seafood we eat) will have some form of plastic inside it.

turt leg

photo credit to Kirsty Magson

 

Its reasons like this that we need to make a stand and start reducing plastic pollution and our own plastic consumption. The marine debris isn’t supposed to be there, but it is our over indulgence in these products that have put it there. We are the ones responsible and it’s about time we really start making a difference. 

But how can we reduce plastic pollution? 

There is a need to reduce our plastic consumption. However it is not just about replacing products we have but also finding ways to reuse, recycle and repurpose the things we already have.

The easiest way is to look at the products we use and exchange them for something sustainable.  

  • Saying no single use plastics104100694 670533830403911 6559104975925829932 n
    • Cutlery
    • Bottles
    • Bags
    • Straws
    • Coffee cups
    • Styrofoam
    • Cigarette filters
    • Drinking stirrers
    • Cotton buds

 

  • Go reusable104184556 2621711671406319 3705756906346737376 n
    • Shopping bags
    • Travel mugs
    • Cutlery set
    • Lunch box
    • Bamboo toothbrush
    • Bamboo cotton swabs
    • Straws
    • Beeswax wraps

 

  • Shop at zero waste stores104474378 1540849502751797 112064512958044858 n
  • Request plastic free packaging from major supermarkets
  • Go green for bathroom products
    • Shampoo bars
    • Eco friendly cleaning products
  • Be more aware of what you are eating and what it contains
    • Less meat
    • Less seafood
    • Less chemicals
  • Reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle

 

While the above list can be overwhelming, even setting yourself a goal to implement one change or one reduction in plastic consumption per month is a step in the right direction. No one is asking for all these changes to be made overnight but we should be open to them as our consumption is having an impact whether we realize it or not.

It doesn’t take much to switch out a plastic bag for a cloth/fabric one or to change that morning coffee cup into a reusable one. Simple switches like this, and bringing more awareness to the topic, will help make a difference in plastic pollution.


Being that I now live in Thailand, here are a few of my favorite places to shop eco/sustainably but across the world there are thousands more.

Brands we recommend within Thailand

  • ReReef
  • Refill Station
  • RePlanet
  • Zero Waste Thailand
  • Stream to Sea
  • Reef Repair
  • KAANI
  • Super Bee

Shops we recommend on Koh Tao

  • Ban’s 24 Supermarket
  • May & Co
  • Gaia Organic Living and Zero Waste
  • S & S Water


Together we can take a step in the right direction, change one thing today and help us to save our oceans. They are after all  OUR OCEAN OUR RESPONSIBILITY


 

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New Heaven Reef Conservation Program