Guest Blog: The Fight Against Ocean Plastic

Written By:  Jessica Panetta, Marketing Manager, TerraCycle Canada

Single-use straws picked up off one beach in Hamilton, Ontario.

Single-use straws picked up off one beach in Hamilton, Ontario.

Imagine it’s 2050, and there is more plastic in the ocean than fish. Scary, right? Unfortunately, this idea isn’t far from the projected reality we face today. Every year, 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans and waterways, and of the more than 300 million tons of new, virgin plastic produced globally per year, half of it is designed for single use. Landfilling and incineration, the preferred disposal methods for so-called “disposable” plastics, allow the proliferation of these discarded items into natural ecosystems.

Many of us are familiar with the image of soda can rings posing danger to marine animals from a couple decades ago, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Microplastics create an estimated $13 billion a year in losses from damage to marine ecosystems (not to mention the severe degradation to natural capital suffered by animals and their habitats), as well as financial losses to fisheries and tourism.

Changing the perception of “single-use” plastics (and all plastics, for that matter) is needed to create and strengthen systems that will capture these materials for recycling, divert them from landfills, and decrease virgin production in lieu of more regenerative resource structures.

Head & Shoulders bottle made from beach plastic.

Head & Shoulders bottle made from beach plastic.

The global World Oceans Day is June 8 (originally celebrated at the urging of Canada in 1992), but every day is a good day to find and cultivate ways to engage communities and make resources for clean ocean actions accessible. My company TerraCycle teamed up with Procter & Gamble, one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world, to create bottles made with recycled beach plastic for Head & Shoulders (the #1 shampoo brand in the world) and Fairy (the UK’s #1 dishwashing brand) in Europe.

Seeing plastic waste for what it is, a nearly-indestructible, highly polluted manmade substance that requires a manmade solution, is the first step to reevaluating our dependence on it as a raw material, and thinking twice before throwing it in the trash. Creating a market for recycled plastic, especially beach plastic (difficult-to-recycle because of its exposure to contaminants and UV light, depreciation, and mixed material makeup), by integrating it into the production of products consumers buy every day is one way to do that.

These initiatives strive to create value for all plastic while raising awareness of plastic pollution, an issue is too large to tackle without help from large numbers. Engaging the public is crucial for significant change. A Greener Future, one of TerraCycle’s partners, involves the public through litter cleanups, educational programs and events.

Rochelle Byrne, A Greener Future's Executive Director, with two super-sacks full of beach plastic from Love Your Lake 2017.

Rochelle Byrne, A Greener Future's Executive Director, with two super-sacks full of beach plastic from Love Your Lake 2017.

One of its programs, Love Your Lake (now in its third year, May 26 – August 25) tackles the pollution in Lake Ontario head-on in over 100 locations, last year collecting 2 super-sacks (over 72,000 pieces of trash) worth of rigid plastic that was recycled through TerraCycle's Beach Plastic Cleanup Program.

Taking the time to educate oneself and others on the issues facing the safety and security of our oceans and waterways, including plastic pollution, is an important activity that carries an impact year-round. The website for the Government of Canada has an extensive World Oceans Day section with an overview of the observance, ways to get involved, and links to helpful resources on ocean monitoring, aquatic species at risk, fishing and environmental science.

No matter how far from the coast you live, World Oceans Day is a celebration to mobilize governments, businesses and everyday people around our connection to water and the ocean. This year’s theme and action focus of preventing plastic pollution highlights an issue we can all work to take action on year-round, and empowering oneself with the knowledge and awareness of things you can do will help to change the perceptions and habits that shape our world.

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