As a coastal-dweller it’s a no-brainer that I would love the ocean. We’re spoilt in our neck of the woods. And we often take our beautiful, temperate marine backyard for granted.
My children have inherited my love for the sea. So, we bought them snorkelling vouchers as Christmas gifts. There are fantastic rock pools up the north coast of KZN and I enjoyed many hours of exploring and learning about the marine life along our coast when I was young.
It was a beautiful morning as we made our way down to the beach at Chaka’s Rock. But something just looked wrong. Plastic bags and bottles, straws, chips packets and sweet wrappers littered the sand. They were tucked between rocks and even rested on the sea bed. It broke my heart.
The environmental costs of plastic is at an all-time high. Think about these figures: globally, we recycle only 5% of plastics effectively. The other 95% remains all over the planet and ultimately lands up in our oceans.
And the problem of plastic waste is not just a coastal one. This type of waste resides in stormwater drains and causes flooding as well as waterway pollution. They litter streets too. And eventually they end up in our food.
The problem with plastic is that it isn’t biodegradable. It takes over
1 000 years for a plastic bag to break down into smaller particles known as microplastics. The rub is that these microplastics never go away – they remain in the soil and water.
They’re extremely dangerous to birds and marine life, who mistake them for food. And while you’re enjoying your sushi, you can rest assured that you are possibly consuming those microplastics too. They’re just as dangerous for you.
A 2016 study at Plymouth University concluded that plastic was found in 33% of fish caught in the UK. And in 2017, researchers at Belgian university, Ghent, reported that people who ate seafood in Europe, consumed up to 11 000 microplastic particles annually. They said: “… microplastics can be ingested by a wide range of marine organisms … which in turn creates an understudied risk of exposure for human consumers.”
If we continue polluting our planet at the rate we are doing so now, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. That’s a mere 32 years from now.
Toothpastes, facial and body scrubs and some household detergents also contain microplastics. In 2015, when it first came to light, consumers were horrified. We could be contributing to the microplastics problem without even knowing it.
Beat the microbead
Dr Shannon Hampton of the International Ocean Institute has initiated the Beat The Microbead programme in South Africa. The programme educates consumers on what microplastics are, how to identify them in products and how to find eco-friendly alternatives.
The UNEP has launched the #CleanSeas Campaign to urge governments to enact policies to reduce the use of plastic. In December 2017, South Africa joined 193 UN countries in adopting a resolution to help eliminate marine litter and microplastics in the sea.
But, I believe it is not good enough that governments adopt resolutions. Those resolutions must filter down to citizens. As consumers, we should be seriously considering our use of plastic and actively striving to reduce plastic in our daily lives.
It all boils down to ethical consumption and sustainable living. As consumers, we can make a difference. We can make choices that limit our use of and need for plastic. Reuse, remake, repurpose. Let’s think of creative ways to do this. Why not attend Fashion Revolution Durban for some inspiration?
A fast lifestyle and instant gratification is linked to plastic consumption. Maybe it’s time to return to “slow“. As we become aware of the consequences of consumption, we will realise we have a choice. We can choose to slow down.
- Read my next blog which offers you advice on how to use less plastic.