There is no denying the beauty and majesty of the ocean. It has stirred many hearts, inspired poetry and great tales, and serves as a springboard for countless people’s imaginations. More practically, our oceans serve many vital functions for our planet. They are responsible for providing over 50% of the worlds oxygen and play an important role in regulating the world’s climate, weather patterns and water cycles. They are also important sources of food, with 15% of food globally being sourced from the ocean. Additionally, the ocean is believed to be a veritable cornucopia of potential medical ingredients with over 20 000 new biochemical substances being found in the last 30 years alone. It is the home of 80% of life on earth with over 300 000 different species. Sadly, it is also one of the most highly impacted eco-systems when it comes to pollution. An important brand value for us at Ambassador Foods is “Clean Oceans”, which is supported by our use of recyclable packaging. As part of our endeavour to educate and inspire, we will outline how pollution impacts the oceans, how recycling helps as well as a list of other ways to keep our beautiful oceans clean and healthy.
Ocean pollution – how bad is it?
According to a 2014 research paper, there are more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons floating within the sea. Sadly this number seems to be steadily growing with between 10 and 20 million tons of plastic entering our oceans every year. Many believe that most of this waste would originate from sources close to or on the ocean, such as boats or coastal towns, but a staggering 80% of pollution comes from land-based sources, including deep inland areas through storm drains and sewers. This plastic waste from bottles, grocery bags and other disposable packaging can accumulate in high concentrations in certain areas due to ocean currents. These high-plastic areas are called “gyres” and there are 5 of them currently floating in our oceans. The biggest of these is in the North Pacific, known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” and measures over 700 000 square kilometres (roughly the size of France).
This plastic debris kills more than a million seabirds yearly and over 100 000 marine mammals (and these are only the ones that have been found). Larger plastic items eventually erode into tiny fragments known as micro-fragments which can be found throughout the oceans and beach sand. In a shocking emphasis of this, a 2018 study found that 100% of baby sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs.
The effects of this growing plastic invasion ultimately come full circle to affect the human population as 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption contain plastic. Scientists found microplastics in 114 aquatic species, more than half of which are consumed by humans. Although the health impact on humans consuming this plastic is still inconclusive, some of the chemicals within these plastics are known as disruptors to the endocrine system, others are known to cause birth defects, whilst still others may cause cancer. The particular plastics and chemicals involved as well as the volume and frequency of consumption will affect possible outcomes, although the true results of plastic’s effect on our health may not become clear for many years according to researcher Debra Lee Magadini.
How does recycling help our oceans?
The first and most obvious benefit is that it stops waste from ending up in our oceans through littering and landfills by entering the production cycle once again to create other items. If greater amounts of recycled plastic are available for manufacturers to use, this will also drive down prices and encourage manufactures to source their materials from recycling plants instead of buying new materials. Additionally, by reducing the rate of waste incineration, it reduces unhealthy air pollution which is causing increasingly negative impacts for our oceans due to acidification.
Recycling reduces the amount of plastic that needs to be produced which reduces toxic air and water pollution that goes into the creation of new plastics and often ends up in the oceans. Furthermore, it saves natural resources which assists in reducing harmful mining practices (these noxious chemicals also often find their way into our oceans).
How else can I protect the ocean?
- Reduce your use of single use plastics where possible by firmly eschewing them in favour of using re-usable items that you carry with you to the relevant areas (re-usable straws, material shopping bags, water bottles etc)
- Where you cannot avoid single-use plastics, try to re-use them (if feasible and safe) and where this is not possible, recycle them.
- Recycle correctly. Remember that each type of waste and each recycling centre may require different processes to be followed. Sometimes plastic cannot be recycled if it has food material on it and will need to be rinsed. Many recycling centres do not have the manpower to rinse all the soiled items they receive so these items end up in a landfill or are incinerated.
- Participate in beach and river clean-ups. A single global clean-up effort in 2016 helped remove a staggering 18 million tons of plastic from the beaches. You can make a difference!
- Avoid products that contain micro-beads. These small plastic beads are found in some toothpastes, face scrubs and body exfoliators and have already proven fatal to many marine creatures. If you are unsure, check the ingredients before you buy them
- Support organizations that support the reduce, re-use and recycle ethos and care about their environments. This will put pressure on others to do the same.
We hope that together with our Ambassadors, we can continue to make positive changes for our oceans, our environment and every living being within them.