Plastic waste that makes its way into our oceans accumulates in 5 garbage patches around the globe. If left to circulate, this plastic will impact not only our marine ecosystems but also our own health and economies. Solving this ever growing problem requires re-evaluating plastic production as well as cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

Every year, we produce over 300 million tons of plastic with 8 to 12 million tons of plastics entering our world ocean every year on top of the estimated 165 million tons already in our marine environment. 

The Ocean Conservancy’s 2018 Coastal Cleanup Report gathered data from beach cleanups around the world, identify the most common trash items: cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, plastic bags, straws, plastic takeout containers, plastic lids, and takeaway coffee cups. For the first time ever recorded, all of the top 10 items found globally were made of plastic.  With plastic production continuing to increase and inadequate infrastructures to cope with it, it's finding it's way into our oceans.

 

The 5 Garbage Patches around the World

Source: CityLab

 

The North Pacific Gyre (in the North Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii)

This garbage patch is the largest in the world containing 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and estimated to weigh around 80,000 tons, covering a surface of approximately 1.6 million square kilometres. The patch is constantly growing with up to 2.41 million tons of plastic and garbage entering the ocean each year. 

North Atlantic Gyre (spanning the equator to Iceland, North American, Europe, and Africa)

The measurements of the North Atlantic Garbage patch is unknown but scientists believe it's hundreds of miles in size with an estimated particle density of over 7,200 pieces per square kilometre. 

Many of the marine life in this area have been found dead, their stomachs filled with plastic particles. 

South Pacific Gyre (in the South Pacific Ocean between Australia and South America)

This garbage patch is estimated to have a surface area of 2.6 million square kilometres and a particle density of over 396,000 per square mile.

Having only been discovered in 2017, its affects have yet to be studied but like any garbage patch there is considerable risk to the health of marine life.

Indian Ocean Gyre (in the Indian Ocean)

Due to its remote location, the Indian Ocean garbage patch is difficult to study. Some studies estimate its size at over 2 million square kilometres, with some scientists believing it's as high as 5 million square kilometres. 

This patch has also not been extensively studied but plastic waste has been linked to the death of wildlife such as sea turtles and birds.

When pieces of plastic in our oceans deteriorate from the elements into microplastics, small enough to be consumed by marine life, its removal becomes impossible therefore threatening the marine ecosystem. Additionally, with marine life consuming toxic plastic particles and ending up in our food chain, our own health and wellbeing is at risk.

The good news...

There are game changing companies using innovative technology and removing post consumer plastic that would otherwise end up in landfill or ocean, repurposing our plastic waste into high quality, beautiful and affordable products, giving them a second life and actively being part of the clean-up.  These are the companies, the brands that we need to support who are not simply driven by their bottom line.  

 

Diverted over 7.8 million plastic bottles from the ocean and landfill
8 Plastic Bottles = 1 Shirt

Since 2010, Recover has diverted 7.8 million plastic bottles from the landfill, saved 29.2 million KWH of energy, saved 11.8 million lbs of carbon emissions, and saved 2 billion gallons of water. Recover has raised more than $130,000 for relief efforts, and continues to work with other nonprofits and businesses to create positive impact.

Recover collect and sort post-consumer plastic bottles, stripping them of all labels and caps. Next, they salvage cotton from discarded industry scraps, the reclaimed fiber is then spun into yarn and knit into fabric which is then cut and sewn into a garment. 

Recover combines 100% recycled PET and upcycled cotton to make lightweight, soft, durable, quality clothing - that looks and feels great.  The Recover process minimises dyes, completely eliminates plastic packaging, and significantly reduces the use of chemicals, water, and energy.

Additionally, Recover aims to be a driver in reducing carbon emissions, supporting local jobs, education, and communities. Recover partners with a work co-op in Haiti that creates sustainable jobs and living wages for hundreds of workers as well as a facility in Guatemala that’s powered by biomass from local forestry and coffee industry waste.

 


Diverted over 570,000 plastic bottles from the ocean and landfill

Wolven, making sustainability sexy, are an eco-friendly range of swim, surf and athletic wear inspired by nature and the need to protect our planet for generations to come. 

The Wolven collection is made with OEKO-Tex certified Recycled P.E.T, a fabric that is made from recycled plastic bottles and free from harmful and toxic chemicals.  An innovative, versatile fabric created by breaking down plastics into fine yarns that can be woven into textiles and apparel. Breathable, incredibly soft, and durable.  Wolven provide a second life to discarded plastic bottles.

Wolven's Carbon Neutral modal fabrics are produced from wood-pulp fibers that are sustainably harvested. A cellulose fiber derived from beechwood pulp that’s twice as soft as cotton. Beech trees propagate on their own, so no artificial irrigation or planting is required, making beechwood forests a completely natural and sustainable source of raw material. These carbon-neutral fibers also require less land per tonne and maintain a water consumption level that’s ten to twenty times less than cotton. 

Wolven also invest in programs that replace the resources they've spent.  Through their partnership with The Web Neutral Project who invest in carbon offsets around the world. Each month a new region of the world benefits from the contribution to help create their vision of a more sustainable, carbon neutral world. 

 

Removing 5lbs of plastic waste from the ocean with every bag

By 2050, there could be as much plastic in the ocean as fish.  From plastic bottles to backpacks, Solgaard repurpose post consumer plastic waste into quality bags and luggage. 

Solgaard's goal is to pull 1 million pounds of plastic from the ocean by the end of 2020.  With every bag sold, they pull 5lbs of plastic from the ocean, made possible through their ocean cleanup partnership with The Plastic Bank in the Philippines. 

Not only is Solgaard pulling plastic from the ocean and upcycling it into useful goods but through their partnership with The Plastic Bank they are creating jobs for the locals community in the Philippines. 

 
Where to from here?

At the moment we have a choice, but that choice will eventually be taken out of our hands and we will be left to live within whatever environment we have created.  The population continues to grow at a considerable rate, according to the United Nations as of August 2019 the global population sits at 7.7 billion, it is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.

Population growth has a direct and negative impact on the quality of the environment.  We are using more resources, more often, nature cannot replenish those resources fast enough to supply our needs.  With the increase in people, there is an increase in waste with ineffective infrastructures to cope. 

 

The Industry 

Manufacturing and producing less plastic means less is purchased, consumed and discarded. Governments and Industries need to look at designing and creating more appropriate waste collection and recycling infrastructures as well as investing in innovative research and development of alternative materials.   

You & Me

You can start making a difference right now.  Re-evaluate your plastic waste footprint, use your purchasing power when it matters (corporates do care about consumer preference and purchase habits) and support smart policies (like plastic bag bans) that deliver real solutions.

 

Only focusing on one area will not solve this ever-growing problem; manufacturers must be held accountable for their product’s life cycle from design and creation to disposal in order to reduce future pollution, and infrastructures and clean up efforts must be implemented to fix the pollution we’ve already created.

We have a complex global issue that involves everyone, that affects everyone and in which everyone has a role to play.   We are all connected to the ocean, no matter who we are and where we live...therefore ever effort that each one of us individually makes, no matter how small, has a lasting impact.

 

Photo: Joshua Earl, Unsplash

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