By Larraine Roulston:
Discarded plastic and other resources accumulate in five different ocean garbage patches. The plastic, if left to increase, will negatively impact our ecosystem. It’s a problem that needs not only to be tackled at its source but also demands a massive cleanup.
September 16th marks International Coastal Cleanup Day, an event that attracts volunteers worldwide. It was established by the Ocean Conservancy, an organization that endeavors to protect the ocean from the challenges it faces. Over the centuries our poor oceans have absorbed oil spills, torpedoed battleships, fishing nets, tsunami debris, and the newly discovered microbeads and microfibers. Plastic is a sturdy material that enables the manufacture of durable items and structures; however, single-use packaging is causing incredible damage.
In recent years, Ocean Conservancy has reported that the top ten items collected are cigarette butts, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws/stirrers, glass beverage bottles, other plastic bags and foam take-away containers. It is estimated that five trillion pieces of floating plastic are poisoning marine life. The good news is that volunteer global cleanups have increased in number. This movement has resulted in innovators utilizing marine plastic trash to increase their products’ recycled content as well as to create new products.
The companies that are “upcycling” are striving to keep marine debris out of the oceans and are becoming leaders in the new circular economy. Increasingly, brand manufacturers are working to develop closed-loop solutions. Currently, the products being manufactured from ocean plastics include skateboards, sunglasses, shampoo bottles, running shoes, sportswear, jewelry, doormats and board shorts.
Kristian Syberg is a plastics expert at Roskilde University in Denmark and has sailed through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch collecting ocean debris for analysis. She states, “Such cleaning processes near coastal zones in highly polluted areas could potentially remove a lot of marine debris such as microplastics. I think it is viable if it means that marine debris increases in value, so the efforts to clean up get a higher priority.”
Sportswear giant Adidas became a corporate example of “upcycling” when they began a partnership with Parley for the Oceans. The company now uses marine debris to produce athletic shoes, and opts for more sustainable materials to replace plastic bags and other packaging.
TerraCycle, known to collect and recycle materials that are not accepted in blue box programs, released its pilot project entitled “Beach Plastic Cleanup Program.” TerraCycle has partnered with Procter & Gamble to manufacture shampoo bottles consisting of 25% recycled beach plastic. The companies source the plastic from those who clean up beaches. As well, The Ocean Legacy Foundation and Lush, a cosmetics company, are collaborating on a project to create product bottles.
Recycling marine debris is not without its challenges. Its recycling process involves collecting, washing, sorting and reprocessing. With monetary incentive through markets coming on board, economic viability is on the horizon.
If you live in a coastal city or town, why not join the action at the beach. As an inland citizen, you can help local rivers and lakes, which also need healthy shorelines. Search for products manufactured from recovered ocean plastic; and avoid the use of drinking straws, unnecessary mfood and beverage packaging, as well as plastic bags.
Larraine writes the Pee Wee at Castle Compost adventure series on composting and pollination at www.castlecompost.com