Hawaii (GREED) – The problem of plastic pollution in the ocean is monumental, and the evidence is washing up on the shores of some of the world’s most remote islands. In the Hawaiian archipelago, remote and difficult to access shoreline is discovered to be covered in plastic pollution, washing up here after decades of human carelessness and neglect. Recently, awareness of the problem has risen, but many people are still not aware of the existence of billions of tons of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Each major ocean on Earth is now host to garbage gyres, areas where the ocean currents have naturally collected all the non-biodegradable refuse that has ended up at sea over the years. Earth’s biggest body of water, the Pacific Ocean, also hosts the biggest gyre, called The Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, estimated to be anywhere from twice the size of Texas to the size of the entire continental United States. While it is not entirely the floating plastic island it sounds like, evidence of the pollution concentration is plainly evident on even some of the most remote beaches in the Hawaiian Islands.
There are an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans.
In her investigative documentary, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, journalist Angela Sun visits Midway Atoll. While not considered a part of the state of Hawaii, Midway Atoll is part of the island chain and remains under control of the US government. Sun had to acquire special permissions to visit the remote atoll, which lies midway between the west coast of North America and Eastern Asia. Here the problem of plastic in the ocean is apparent, as piles of rubbish accumulate on the atoll’s shores. A variety of seabirds return year after year to nest here, including endangered species such as the Short-Tailed Albatross. Unfortunately, many young chicks are found dead here each year and the cause of death is often the ingestion of plastic. Their parents scavenge the seas; too often confusing the plethora of floating colorful bits for food.
There are an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. Despite the sheer magnitude, campaigns like The Ocean Cleanup are attempting to tackle the problem. Striving to engineer a practical solution, founder Boyen Slat began a crowdfunding project in 2013 to develop technology to harness ocean currents to allow the ocean to clean itself. The project became the most successful non-profit crowdfunding campaign ever when it managed to solicit over $2 million in donations to move the project out of concept phase. Earlier this year, Slat announced that the technology has been developed and that the cleanup shall commence by 2018. He hopes to rid about half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years, and to have plastic-free oceans by 2050. Watch Slat present the latest details of his ambitious plan here:
Of course, eliminating the plastic currently in the oceans only solves half of the problem. With the production and heavy use of plastic ongoing, and many of the plastic products created today will end up in the ocean tomorrow. Many pieces of plastic garbage found ashore are decades old. As the plastics industry has projected greater production in the future, the amount of the world’s plastic pollution is only slated to grow. Plastic never biodegrades; it merely breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces (called micro-plastics), meaning that the potential consequences of this pollution have only begun to be realized. The chemicals and hormones used in plastic production, both present and past, are finding their way into the food chain, affecting the health of wildlife and humans alike.
“Plastic is a durable material made to last forever, yet 33 percent of it is used once and then discarded.” – Plastic Pollution Coalition
Only immediate and drastic action can save the oceans and the world. The dying seabirds and the plastic-covered shores of sparsely habituated islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean act as a warning sign for our civilization. Plastic pollution is destroying the planet. Consumers can demand the end of the use of single-use plastics, consider sustainability when purchasing products, and support the development of biodegradable packaging. Industry can be held accountable for the waste produced by the products they profit from. A substance designed to last forever should not be used just once and thrown to sea. Let the plastic in the Pacific act as a message in a bottle to society – let’s clean up our act.