Has it ever crossed your mind that every toothbrush you have ever owned is still on earth somewhere? That the majority of the toys you played with and the shoes you wore are still here and taking up space? Or that every single bag of groceries you ever brought into your home still exists, just out of your sight?
While the idea of getting to play with some of your old childhood toys may sound fun, the truth is that we all face a major challenge when it comes to plastic pollution. This problem is ours to fix and it is our responsibility to get it right.
Our oceans are particularly susceptible to plastic pollution...
Much of our plastic waste ends up in our water system and it makes its way out to the ocean. There it affects all marine life: plants, mammals, fish and every other sea creature.
12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year! To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of over 5,000,000 Tesla Model S cars. It means that 800 pounds (∼360kg) of plastic waste (the weight of 40,000 empty plastic water bottles) is dumped into the ocean every second of every minute of every hour of every day.
What can be done about the plastic pollution and ocean plastic problem?
The first step to any type of progress is awareness. After awareness comes a desire to act. Next comes planning and last comes action. To tackle the ocean plastic and plastic pollution problem, you need to first stop making the problem worse.
Small changes in habits are helpful but these large problems need large scale solutions. The below companies and initiatives are making a real difference in the fight against plastic pollution.
1. Let’s clean up our oceans with Team Seas
Remember Team Trees? Well Team Seas is the same just for our oceans! A brand new initiative started by two creators Mr Beast and Mark Rober, that aims to collect USD 30M to pull 30M pounds (13.6 tons) of plastic from the ocean by January 1st, 2022! That's only 2 months away. It’s already making waves (get it?) as after 1 day they have collected over USD 3M. They have teamed up with The Ocean Cleanup and are removing plastic using their new robot JENNY.
With more than 8 million pieces of garbage making their way into the ocean EVERY SINGLE DAY, initiatives to collect trash from the ocean alone are not enough. It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back, as with every piece of plastic that is removed, three more take its place. The only way to make a dent, is to stop the plastic entering the ocean at the source. It turns out that the biggest source of that plastic is our world’s rivers. In fact only 1% of the world's rivers are responsible for a whopping 80% of plastic that ends up in the ocean.
So… here's the plan: Add a filtering system into those rivers that are responsible for the most plastic waste. And that’s exactly what The Ocean Cleanup team are on a mission to do with their fleet “Interceptor” robots who trap the plastic before it reaches our oceans. This initiative will be sponsored by Team Seas and their collected donations.
Mind blown? Yup, ours too! If you’re inspired by this initiative and have a heart for our oceans consider donating at Team Seas and share it using #teamseas to your social media. We just did our part and donated. 1 USD pulls out 1 pound of plastic! Let’s do this together!
2. Let’s get mushrooms on board and help the cleanup
Sometimes solutions can come from the most unlikely of places. Researchers at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Pakistan have discovered that a type of fungus, Aspergillus Tubingensis, may be a promising option to tackle the pollution problem.
It turns out that type of fungus can secrete an enzyme that breaks down plastic, essentially turning it into fungus food. In this way, these fungi can do what humans have yet to figure out how to do. Make plastic actually disappear!
Other types of mushrooms have been found to do this as well. Pleurotus ostreatus and Schizophyllum commune have been used in a lab to break down plastic while growing edible mushrooms! Pestalotiopsis microspore is another mushroom that has been found to be able to live in an oxygen free environment while decomposing plastic into organic material.
While this is not an automatic and scalable pollution solution yet, it has the potential to be a game changer for our plastic problem.
3. Let’s use alternatives like bioplastics
Plastics continue to play an integral part in almost every part of modern life. So, how do we stop the continuous flow of plastic into the oceans and landfills? Create plastics out of decomposable materials! If we need the materials, let’s make them harmless to the environment.
Many companies are turning to bioplastics as a way to create products that work and will be returned to the ecosystem by breaking down. Companies like Evoware are using seaweed (that is sourced locally!) to create everything from wrapping paper to packaging. They were able to sea-weed need a solution… and they delivered.
Parrotfish has decided to eliminate all plastic from their packaging, and so e.g. our mailer bag is made from corn.
Find out more about our sustainability practices at Parrotfish here.
4. Let’s reduce or eliminate our seafood consumption
This is a simple thing that anyone can do to help reduce the amount of plastic waste in the ocean. As it turns out, the vast majority of the plastic waste (45-70% of microplastics by weight) in the ocean is the result of commercial fishing enterprises.
Nets and discarded fishing materials are left in the ocean where they continue to catch fish and hurt wildlife but also break down to ever smaller pieces. Every dollar you spend is a vote on who you want to succeed in business so by refraining or limiting your seafood consumption, you are eliminating the need for more commercial fishing.
...and they look so much nicer alive anyway, don't they?
5. Let’s use recycled plastic in useful ways: To build roads and houses
MacRebur is an innovative company out of the UK that has taken a novel approach to keep plastics out of landfills. They take plastics that are unrecyclable, the single-use plastics, and use them in the construction of new roads. They have developed a process where they mix them into the road materials, locking them into the road and out of the landfill for good.
This is an ingenious approach to this problem and you could say that they have laid the groundwork (we're full of puns today) for many more innovations to come!
Another innovator in the sector of repurposing plastics is Nzambi Matee. The company she founded, Gjenge Makers, uses different types of plastic waste to create bricks for construction. Not only are these suitable for construction but they are also 5-7 harder than concrete!
Her factory produces around 1,500 bricks per day, which is an impressive feat for a stand-alone operation. If scaled to its full potential, this innovation alone could decrease the amount of plastic pollution and ocean plastics drastically.
6. Let’s buy and use products that are made from recycled plastic
Not all products are created equal and neither are all companies. If you want to see the dollars you spend go to great lengths to make a difference, it pays to do your homework. Companies now have the ability to harness recycling processes to make more eco-friendly and sustainable products.
At Parrotfish we use recycled plastics as the base material for our swimwear. This means we don't only pull plastic out of the landfills and Ocean, but using recycled nylon instead of virgin raw materials reduces carbon emissions by 25-75%! It allows you to purchase products you need while reducing your footprint on the environment and looking damn good at the same time! On top of that we have eliminated ALL plastic from our packaging (that's more difficult than it sounds btw).
Solutions are only as good as the actions that follow
These are some of the most innovative solutions that are now coming to light in the face of this ever-growing threat. Parrotfish is committed to ensuring a future that is eco-friendly and works in conjunction with the wonderful environment we get to live in and enjoy. Sign up for our newsletter and read more about our sustainability practices at parrotfish.io/sustainability.
"The ocean takes care of us. Let's return the favour."