It’s World Ocean’s Day and now is a good time to reflect on the current health status of our oceans. One of the most pressing issues, if not the biggest challenges, facing the oceans right now is the problem of plastic pollution, and we know this because we see it when we are out in the waves.

Half of all the plastics currently in use are designed for single use only, meaning they are discarded shortly after they are used. These discarded plastic items end up in landfills, littering the landscape, and very often end up in the ocean or washing up on a beach somewhere around the world — in many cases, far from where the item was originally discarded.

Not only is this debris unsightly, it poses a huge environmental problem, threatening the health of marine life and also that of humans.

SLO active’s recently published report, Plastic Pollution: The impact on our oceans and what we can do about it, highlights some of the key environmental issues associated with marine plastic debris, as well as some potential solutions to the problem.

The report points out that while bigger pieces of plastic are common in the marine environment, and do pose an environmental problem, a far bigger, yet often under-reported issue, is the threat posed by microplastics.

Plastic doesn’t break down (like most organic materials), it rather breaks up into smaller pieces, then tiny pieces.

“Plastics are photodegradable – meaning that they break down into smaller and smaller pieces when exposed to sunlight. Because the temperature they are exposed to in the ocean is much lower than that on land, the breakdown process takes much longer in the marine environment.”

These consist of tiny fragments of plastic that break away from larger plastic items as they break down in the environment; microbeads used in personal care products such as shampoos and shower gels; and microfibres originating from textiles and clothing.

The chemical ingredients used in over 50% of plastics are described as hazardous chemicals. This means they have the potential to cause harm to humans, animals or the environment, although the risk of this occurring is dependent on the degree of exposure.

Initial findings of the impact of plastic pollution has proved to be so vast, that it would take forever to quantify the extent of its impact. Over 600 marine species are known to have been negatively affected by marine plastic debris; with the most common negative impacts resulting from ingesting plastic or entanglement in plastic debris. Most plastics contain harmful chemical ingredients that are toxic to animals and humans if ingested. Animals ingesting plastic also stop eating as they feel full. This leads to gradual starvation, even though food might be plentiful and freely available.

It is generally agreed that the most effective solution would be to prevent plastic from entering the environment in the first place. This will require a concerted effort by anyone who produces or consumes plastic. We all have choices, including consumer choices.

You can avoid disposable single-use plastic items such as straws, opting for produce that is free of plastic packaging, and choosing more sustainable alternatives such as:

  • A reusable shopping bag – there are many options available where they will  fold down into a tiny pouch that fits in your bag
  • A bamboo toothbrush
  • A wooden hairbrush
  • Wooden pegs rather than their plastic equivalent
  • A safety razor rather than a plastic disposable one
  • A stainless steel reusable water bottle
  • Opt to eat in rather than eating on the go
  • Say no to straws
  • Make this your pre-surf ritual: Do a 3 min beach pickup every time you visit a beach, lake, or river; and recycle where possible
  • Reusable coffee cups, there are bamboo options, also collapsible silicone cups people with lack of space in their handbag!
  • Boycott companies that only offer plastic takeout options (such as Starbucks, Joe in the Juice and Pret)

We can all contribute to cleaner seas and a healthier marine environment.

Make a commitment for this World Ocean’s Day to say no to single-use plastics, opt for sustainable alternatives and recycle wherever possible.

SLO active are a social enterprise dedicated to cleaning up and protecting our oceans. For more information regarding the issue, as well as tips on how you can help reverse the tide of marine plastic, read SLO active’s Plastic Pollution guide here.