Last night I returned from the 5th International Marine Debris Conference. The conference isn’t over yet, but I have an ocean to row (12 days and counting!) so I had to get back to Fremantle in Australia for final preparations. The conference was eye-opening, in the same uncomfortable and disillusioning way that Copenhagen/COP15 was.
I had thought that plastic pollution was much less contentious than, say, climate change, but it seems that there is no limit to humankind’s ability to find grounds for division rather than cooperation. I was shocked to witness a hostile encounter between two individuals partaking in the conference, culminating in a rather personal attack on academic credentials. Come on, people, let’s focus on the issues!
“Disposable” plastics were also much in evidence at the conference, despite a statement that the use of such items had been minimised. I guess I have a different definition of “minimal”.
I don’t know what the final outcome will be, but the draft strategy was not a promising start. It focused mostly on cleanups and recycling, rather than reducing the supply of plastic at source. I had hoped that it would make some bold policy recommendations, but it looks like it will still be down to us, the average consumers, to show the way. If industry and government won’t do it, we will.
If you are interested to know the scale of the problem, here are some interesting figures (mostly gleaned from the Plastic Oceans website):
Chris Jordan states that 1.1 million kgs (2.4 million pounds) of plastic enter our worlds oceans every hour of every day. (This could be a conservative estimate. The Plastic Oceans site suggests that the figure could be closer to 5 million kgs.) In terms of sheer weight, that ends up equal to 3-5 times the hourly flow rate of the Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (Thanks to Doug McLean of WWF-Australia for his calculations.)
So that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news. With ever more plastic flowing into the oceans every day, we all have the opportunity to step up and take responsibility. For starters, I would take it as a huge personal favour if you would please never again use a “disposable” plastic item. I now have quite an arsenal of non-plastic items in my bag that enable me to avoid most “disposable” plastics:
Stainless Steel Drinking Straw
Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your colleagues. Write to your supermarket and your city mayor and your state governor. Support city bans on plastic bags. If we all pull together, we can make a world of difference!
And if, after all of this, you need a smile, I highly recommend this short video on recycling – Flashmob style. You might not get this kind of reaction every time you do the right thing, but on the inside you’ll know you have done your bit to help save our planet.
Another smile: check out the Wipe Out Waste song.
Tomorrow it’s Earth Hour – please turn off your lights at 8pm for an hour, enjoy a candlelit dinner of organic yumminess, and thank your lucky stars that we live on such an amazing planet. You can see my Earth Hour video message here.
Fancy an adventure combined with an eco mission? You don’t have to spend 4 months alone in a rowboat. There are still a couple of crew spots available on OceansWatch sailing expeditions to Melanesia. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more details. I sailed with them in Papua New Guinea last year. Highly recommended!