Environment

91% of Plastic Ever Produced Hasn't Been Recycled

6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste will take over 400 years to degrade

14.04.2018 | contributed by Dominic Meredith Hardy – Global Change Collective
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A startling statistic recently published in the Sciences Advances journal revealed that of the estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced since 1950, 6.3 billion tonnes has ended up as plastic waste. Taking over 400 years to degrade, nearly all of this non-recycled plastic still exists in landfills and, the final catchment, our oceans.

Every year, between 8 -12 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans. Transported by the world’s oceanic circulation systems, much of it ends up in one of our five major Oceanic Gyres in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. The most famous of the world plastic resting grounds is the great North Pacific garbage patch.

Ongoing scientific studies have found the garbage patch to be much larger than previously thought, now estimated at twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. The effect on our marine ecosystems is becoming more and more prevalent, with over 30 kilograms of plastic found inside a sperm whale that washed up on the coast of Spain.

So, what’s being done about it?

The good news is there are some fantastic initiatives already going to work to tackle the gargantuan challenge of Ocean Plastic.

The first step in tackling any challenge is understanding the problem you need to solve. One man leading the world’s most extensive study of ocean plastics — The Ocean Cleanup is Boyan Slat. At the age of 16, the young Dutch innovator and entrepreneur decided to dedicate a school project to creating a passive boom system that uses ocean currents to filter plastic from our oceans.

Last year, they led the most advanced study of the Pacific Garbage patch, utilising 30 boats, 652 surface nets, and two flights over the patch to gather aerial imagery of the debris. The study found the patch today covers over 1.6 million square kilometres and is made up of over 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. Having now raised over $30 million to support the cleanup project in 2018, Boyan hopes to clean up half of the Pacific Garbage patch with 5 years.

The Ocean Cleanup

Another person leading the charge against ocean plastic is the director of Trash Free Seas for the Ocean Conservancy, Nick Mallos. The Ocean Conservancy has been operating since 1985 and, to date, has been responsible for the manual collection and cleanup of over 100,000 tonnes of plastic waste through their volunteer-run beach cleanups and plastic pick-up operations. The company is also leading initiatives in environmental research, education, and outreach.

Ocean Conservancy

Another fantastic cleanup operation that has emerged more recently is 4Ocean — founded by two surfers and ocean enthusiasts, Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze, who were frustrated by the effect of plastic pollution on local fisherman in Bali. Andrew and Alex devised an initiative that, through the sale of recycled plastic bracelets, funded local fishermen to pick up ocean plastic when they went to sea. Today, they are leading beach and underwater cleanups in 16 different countries and hope to collect over half a million kilograms of plastic waste in 2018.

4Ocean

These are all fantastic initiatives, but Alex, Andrew, Boyan, and Nick all agree that the best way to tackle ocean plastic is prevention at the source.

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"Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans." - Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer

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