Did you know that there is a floating island of plastic garbage, twice the size of France, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? I had no idea! And before I even knew about the problem, there was a very young innovator who had discovered a possible solution!
And before I even knew about the problem, there was a very young innovator (17 years old to be exact) who had discovered a possible solution!
Here’s a few details to help us understand the scope of this issue and then we’ll learn about the amazing young mind behind the clean-up:
- 90% of all trash in the ocean is plastic. 1
- The billions of pounds of plastic in the oceans make up 40% of the ocean’s surface. 2 FORTY PERCENT!
- 50% of the plastic we use is only used once, then thrown away. 3
- It takes plastic 500 to 1,000 years to degrade. 4
- In Los Angeles, CA alone every day 10 metric tons of plastic refuse (22,046.2 pounds or 10,000 kilograms) ends up in the Pacific Ocean. 5
Here’s an EWC favorite, SciShow, to get us up to speed on what happens to plastics once they enter the ocean…
First, I have to come clean about my own starting point on the subject of plastics. See if you can identify with where many of us are at: until researching and writing today’s article, I could buy a water in a single-use plastic bottle, without giving it a second thought. I recycled, but not with the seriousness the problem demands.
And I almost never considered all the plastic packaging I was accepting with the things I purchased.
Here’s a beautiful series of very short videos, produced on the famous WWII atoll called Midway Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that helped me get inspired:
I’m so sorry to spring that on you. (Remember: moments from now we will introduce you to an innovator who has taken this issue in hand!) But before I saw that, I found there was no way to appreciate how each of us has a role in this matter, even in a small way.
I thought all that plastic in the oceans fell off boats. I had no idea I was connected to the problem in any way.
The next video is easier, and shorter, but just as important in demonstrating the link to our cozy lives. This is not a “far away” issue, the next little series of very short pieces brings the issue right back to all our dinner tables:
First the large bits..
Now let’s get to how this reaches our dinner tables…
So, this situation may seem dire, and to some extent it is, but luckily along with curbing our own plastics habits, there is a young thought leader out there who is gearing up for a project to clean up our oceans!
The Solution: The Ocean Cleanup, and its 19-year-old founder who came up with a plan so good that he headed a company of 25 employees and 100 volunteers by the time he was 21!
The fellow in today’s EWC spotlight, Boyan Slat, is so remarkable because he has found a way to combat the entirety of the ocean-plastic problem.
His idea, which is now becoming a reality, uses the same currents that bring the garbage to the gyres to make his project, The Ocean Cleanup, economically feasible and, most importantly, completely doable.
His company grew from an idea, to a wildly popular TEDx Talk, into a full-fledged foundation.
It has been a remarkable journey…
Slat’s path has been one of many questions. Is this feasible? Will it work? Will it really make a difference? All of which he has come to answer over time with a resounding, YES!
So what does the timeline look like? Here’s The Ocean Cleanup’s long-term goals for the project:
We first told the EWC community about this story 2 years ago and it was our “most viewed” article for months. So important is the concept that we thought we’d give our now much larger community an update!
Here’s where things stand now:
Remember earlier in this article when I mentioned that I recycled but didn’t take it seriously enough. Well, here’s something I learned that has changed my purchasing habits completely: “recycling” is often thrown around as the answer to all our problems, but it is a highly misused term. If you recycle a milk jug and it becomes a plastic chair, great, right?
Not really. Because if the plastic chair breaks – as they so often do – and becomes useless, then where do you go with it? Most often it winds up in the dump.
If we’ve only saved it from the dump by one reuse step. That’s not really “recycling”.
What we need is “closed loop recycling”, which means that the materials stay useful and keep getting reused indefinitely. They never wind up in the landfill! Demand that of the people you buy from.
Even better: Isn’t it smarter to just stop buying anything made with plastics altogether? If you must buy bottled drinks in single-use containers, choose only products sold in glass or aluminum (two materials that rarely wind up in the dumpsters anymore) and tell the store owner why you are making that choice. The only way to get manufacturers to move away from plastics is to demand that they use “closed-loop” materials that can truly be recycled indefinitely.
Beyond this and reducing your own use of plastics, share this important article with everyone you can. This one’s a big one, folks, for our children, children’s children, and the generations to come.
You can get Involved. If you’d like to learn more, help fund The Ocean Cleanup Project, or assist them personally, check out the following links:
Meanwhile, stay hopeful, curious and open!
~ Dr. Lynda
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