11. February 2019
Reading time: 3 minutes
Beaches strewn with plastic, dead sea gulls, trash vortexes drifting in the sea – the oceans are contending with many issues. Time to get it in gear. If we continue like this, twice as much trash will be drifting in the world’s oceans in 2025 as does now. What are the causes? And what can each individual do?
Plastic for the coming generations
Ever more plastic is produced, from an annual 1.5 million tons in the 1950s to 300 million tons nowadays. A total of 8.5 billion tons have accumulated over the years, 80% of which is rotting in landfills and in the world’s oceans. And taking its sweet time. Plastic is patient and takes time to degrade – up to 450 years.
A few statistics
From straws to plastic bottles and shopping bags, flip-flops to plastic chairs – approx. 5-10 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. There are up to 18,000 plastic parts of different sizes in each square kilometer of ocean surface. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the trash vortex between California and Hawaii, is now four times as large as Germany, and similarly sized vortexes can be found in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Vast amounts, and what’s on top is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of it, an estimated 70%, sinks, swaying like plankton at greater depths or sinking to the seabed.
Starving with a full stomach
An estimated 100,000 marine animals such as whales and dolphins presumably perish annually from swallowing plastic parts or becoming tangled in ghost nets. An additional 1 million seafowl die of interior injuries by mistaking plastic for food. And as this presumed food breaks down over the years, the problem is not solved but rather just shifts elsewhere. Microplastic is ingested by fish, shellfish, and coral, thereby becoming a deadly part of the food chain. An issue which, incidentally and due to international fishing, finds its way back onto our plates. The tiny plastic pieces release many toxic substances, softening agents and bisphenol A, which damage the genetic makeup and hormones of marine animals, and also cause reproductive disorders and cancer in people.
How can the oceans be saved?
Even though guidelines and legal frameworks are slowly taking shape at the international level, a short-term solution is currently not on the horizon. But every one of us can help.
Avoid plastic if possible: Give a cold shoulder to disposable items, avoid unnecessary packaging, and buy locally sourced food. Select high quality, durable products. At the end of 2018 the EU adopted a guideline which will ban unnecessary single-use plastic within a few years. Plastic-free alternatives will have to be found to disposable plates and cutlery, coffee cups, plastic straws, cotton swabs, and swizzle sticks.
Microplastic – tiny and treacherous: Hardly visible to the naked eye, these less than 5 mm particles are everywhere in daily life, swept into rivers by rain and sewage, and thereby into the ocean. They are in cosmetic articles such as shower gel, shampoo, soap, cream, peelings, and lotion. The organization “Beat the Microbead” lists exactly which brands are particularly contaminated, and names others which very deliberately produce without plastic.
Another, still relatively unknown source of microplastic, is cheap textiles made of plastic fiber. Not only because it is manufactured under questionable conditions, they also release fibers and particles that purification plants cannot filter out, and then drift directly into the water and food cycle. Pure cotton is usually a superior alternative. As motorists, we generate microplastic in every mile we drive from tire abrasion. Unavoidable, but we can reduce unnecessary driving, use bicycles and public transport, and form carpools.
Initiatives for healthy oceans: The plucky commitment of a few can make a big difference, as shown by 4ocean: Founded by two young surfers who identified the problem and solution while riding the waves on Bali. Why don’t the local fishermen collect the trash with their nets? Because that costs time and money and they must provide for their families. 4ocean thus now arranges for the locals to be compensated for their cleaning actions, and recycles a part of the retrieved plastic into fashionable bracelets. They are sold at a symbolic price; and a pound of plastic per piece is fished out of the ocean with the proceeds. With 150 employees, the organization has removed over 1,000 tons of trash in almost two years.
There is another way
Why are we telling you about this? What has this got to do with cooktops made of glass ceramic and not plastic? We want to be clear: we get it. And are doing our part. For example when it comes to packing. Where Nopa foam foil was previously used, today we use environmentally-friendly fleece material. Tough, tear-resistant and space-saving. We believe that precisely this holistic approach, which considers and optimizes the life cycle of a product from beginning to end, will make the difference for the future of our planet.
Title picture ©Karina Tes on Unsplash