Every June 8th the world unites to honor World Oceans Day: a concept originally proposed in 1992 by Canada's International Centre for Ocean Development and the Ocean Institute of Canada, that’s now celebrated by people around our blue planet. World Oceans Day aims to encourage communities to start creating a better future. Using events to inform the public of our impact on the ocean in the hope of spurring a worldwide movement to promote the sustainable management of this precious resource. A thriving marine environment is critical to global health. Our oceans are the lungs of our planet – releasing most of the oxygen people breathe; providing us with fish to eat, a stable climate, a natural water source, and a plethora of medicines.
The following article showcases which plastics do the most harm and discusses what workplaces can do to help protect our oceans on this World Oceans Day.
The effect of plastic on marine life and the oceans
Plastic not only sinks to the depths of the ocean, it directly impacts the marine life that lives there. The heads of the United Nations Environment agency warn of an impending ‘Ocean Armageddon’ unless we phase out our reliance on single-use items such as bags, bottles, straws and cutlery. On recent estimations, an upward of 100,000 marine mammals are killed every year as a result of eating plastic. Scientists exploring the deepest ocean trenches in Japan, the Hebrides, and Chile have found plastics in every nook. More worryingly, when testing the wildlife that lives there, 100% of creatures in one spot had plastic in their gut.
How much plastic do we consume?
Researchers at Columbia University’s, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory recently studied the digestive tract of market-bought shrimp to ascertain what it had consumed. A small application of red dye immediately flagged a startling insight: seven pieces of plastic in the stomach of one shrimp bought for human consumption.
This is not uncommon. Scientists have found plastic fibers, fragments, and micro-beads in both ocean-going and freshwater fish, wild-caught and farmed. With 114 species known to have plastic in their stomachs; more than half of which we freely eat for dinner. Species such as plankton, bivalves, fish and whales regularly consume microplastics as they look just like their food, clogging digestive tracts, impeding appetite, altering feeding behavior and affecting both growth and reproductive capability.
Which plastics should we avoid?
A plastic bag has an average usable life of just 12 minutes but will survive in the marine environment for thousands of years, including in the digestive tract of a whale. If we re-use plastic, it becomes less of a concern unless it is the type to contain Bisphenol A (BPA). Bisphenol A is a hormone-disrupting material linked to autism, birth defects, and reproductive issues. Remember to check any plastic used and avoid anything suggesting BPA, particularly in children’s cups and bottles which frequently include the compound. Another way to know which plastics to avoid is checking the number contained in the recycling triangle. The main ones to remove from your routine are:
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Contains di-2- Ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), an endocrine disruptor and possible carcinogen;
- Polystyrene (PS): It can leach styrene, another endocrine disruptor and a probable carcinogen;
- Polycarbonate: contains BPA.
How can my workplace help protect the oceans for the future?
Fixing the situation starts at the top to set the right agenda and encourage positive behavior.
1) Maximise the use of recycling bins
Even if plastic is vital to daily operations, we can encourage sustainable behavior by providing recycling bins for plastics, paper, and other waste. If you are concerned about the lack of engagement, implement a policy to ensure those around you make use of the amenities provided.
2) Minimise the use of unnecessary packaging
Whether in the products sold, communications sent or even at the water dispenser; there are multiple areas you can reduce your reliance on plastic. Minimize packaging where possible and encourage the use of reusable drink bottles, provide plates, cutlery and cups.
3) Get involved with local events and raise awareness
There are many ways for businesses to get involved in World Oceans Day. Whether you choose to plan your own event or attend one organized by others. You can even download plastic pollution resources and promotional materials to help raise awareness. No matter what you do – every action has a huge impact.
This is our chance to help save the planet
As each of us has a responsibility to ensure the oceans remain healthy for generations to come. World Oceans Day offers everyone the chance to help protect the ocean and deliver a better future for us all. It’s your chance to join with others around a single focus. Why not use this June to:
- Learn how our daily consumer habits are affecting the marine creatures living in the sea
- Update your perspective and find out how the ongoing health of the ocean will benefit us in years to come
- Work with your local community and become a champion of our planet