Oceans of Plastic

Oct 11, 2021

It is a place many of us love to be on a sunny day, or on our holidays – by the sea.  Looking out on that beautiful, vast horizon I normally find my problems become minute, but how often does it enter our minds that it is being overwhelmed with plastic pollution?  I fear this problem is very much “out of sight, out of mind”. 

It is estimated that 10 million tonnes of litter enter the world’s oceans each year.  Plastic makes up 80% of this “marine litter” (IUCN, 2018). Think about that figure for a moment, 10 million tonnes of waste equates to more than 1 garbage truck load of rubbish, entering the ocean every minute. That is staggering.

Beach clean ups are great initiatives, bringing communities together, creating awareness and keeping local coastal areas clean. But it is not enough. they are not a solution to this problem, it is like putting a band aid on to a broken leg.

“It is estimated that 70% of marine litter is on the seabed, 15% is floating in the water column and 15% is what we find on our shores” (OSPAR, 1995).  All this litter is coming from what we throw away– it is not someone else’s doing, nor another species – it is our own. 

I do not want to sound entirely pessimistic but the problem is real and it is big.  Issues arising from this ocean waste are: increased acidity of the oceans by 30%, approximately 50% of coral reefs are being bleached, we are losing marine species and the rise in sea levels is leading to a loss in coastal lands, for many this will mean a loss of their homes also.  

One the biggest issues is that the health of our oceans has been totally decimated, and as the biggest carbon absorbing systems we had in the past die slowly, so does our chance to reduce GHG emissions.

Whilst the scale of the problem and the possibilities of mitigating these circumstances are being highlighted, I really feel we ALL need to be on board in some way as part of the solution. Each of using less plastic, creating less waste – this is something small, that if we all did it we would achieve big results together. We need to end the use of “single use” plastic.  We need to reduce the amount of waste we produce and reuse/repurpose where we can.

I met the news of soft plastics being recyclable now in Ireland with mixed emotions this week.  Yes, we need more to be done in this area in terms of less ending up in landfill – but we need to reduce our dependence on these types of plastic, we need to choose the reusable option.  This is cultural.  We have adopted single use for convenience with open arms over the past 40 years, buying plastic wrapped everything without a second thought – but do we know the toll it is having on our world?  

Marine plants are responsible for 50-80% of the world’s oxygen and also take in CO2 – I can’t help but feel like convenience is destroying our breathing ability until the point we asphyxiate in our own commodity.  

Visuals are so important to engage people, have impact and to provoke action.

The National Geographic’s photography exhibition ‘Planet or Plastic’ has recently announced an Irish road show thanks to the efforts of Sick of Plastic Ireland, Friends of the Earth Ireland and SSE Airtricity.

Telling the story of plastic through imagery, this is one exhibition we don’t want to miss, “In the build up to COP26 UN Climate negotiations we want to bring the issues of plastic to the fore. This exhibition curated by the National Geographic will be taken on a roadshow around Ireland. Stay tuned for more info – you can sign up for Sick of Plastic updates here.” (https://www.foe.ie/blog/2021/07/22/update-on-sick-of-plastic/).


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