There are approximately 268,000 tonnes of plastic floating in our oceans, which equates to an average of five trillion individual pieces. It is now believed that plastic waste can be found on every beach in the world, from the busiest beaches to the most isolated and uninhabited islands.
The plastic debris not only harms ocean ecosystems but also find its way to the world’s coasts and into the food chain. More than one million seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals die every year from ingesting plastic – and these numbers are set to increase.
Chloe Dubois is one of the founders of Ocean Legacy, a Canadian NGO tackling the problem of marine plastic pollution.
“When plastic reaches our oceans, it tends to act as little sponges so any chemicals that are in the water, it will begin to absorb these chemicals in the plastic pieces and this is very toxic and very dangerous for marine life. Every day we’re finding the new animal or whale that’s been washed ashore with stomachs full of plastic,” says Dubois.
However, with oil giants such as Shell and Exxon investing heavily in the plastics industry, the organisation and others doing similar work in Canada and worldwide, have serious obstacles to conquer in order to make a difference.
One of the ways Ocean Legacy is attempting to address the growing interest in plastics is by using an inclusive and multifaceted approach with the aim of developing a complete zero waste clean-up programme. This includes spatial mapping, which involves communities exposed to plastic waste and allows them to report and act on the situation.
Practical clean up expeditions around Canada’s west coast are also one of Ocean Legacy’s methods. They organise teams from a pool of up to 5,000 volunteers to get together and physically collect plastic debris from shorelines across the country which is then transported for recycling and repurposing.
Styrofoam becomes picture frames, beach huts and picnic benches, while bits of old tyres hit the road again as new tyres. Ocean Legacy is even starting to engage high-street companies such as Lush cosmetics who are using recycled plastic for their signature packaging.
The Ocean Legacy-developed mobile plastic-to-fuel machine demonstrates that plastic can be turned into diesel and kerosene. These machines, and their larger counterparts, which are in production, are also intended to bring plastic usage full circle, allowing for less fortunate and more remote communities to benefit from what could have ended up as waste in a landfill.
“The larger scale technology that we’re looking to develop would be ideal for remote, coastal or even island communities that don’t have readily accessible fuel sources and are also inundated with plastic pollution everywhere. It makes sense that these remote communities use that plastic as a resource that will benefit the community,” says Dubois.
With high-profile names, such as artist and author Douglas Coupland lending their support to the plastic pollution movement, the future promises many possibilities for making an environmental difference.
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