Plastic, particularly ocean plastic, is probably one of the hottest and most important topics around at the moment, and long may it continue. Plastic in our seas is something that we want to shout about from the rooftops because our entire ecosystem is in danger, and the ocean that we love has been so thoroughly abused by humanity it may actually not recover.
Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? In case you haven’t, it is the largest of the five accumulations of ocean plastic in the world, and its located between Hawaii and California. The movement of the ocean currents and winds basically collect garbage at five locations across the world; ‘herding’ it into huge floating masses of detritus. The GPGP is currently estimated to be the twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France. To repeat, this is only ONE of the FIVE patches like this. Humans are responsible for 1.15 to 2.41 million metric tonnes of plastic entering our seas and oceans every year. If that doesn’t fill you with fear and horror, then not much will.
Superyachts produce a vast amount of waste in terms of food rubbish, plastic packaging and bottles etc. Not only that, they get refits on a pretty regular basis, and all the manufacturing that goes into making all the new furniture, boat parts, uniforms, structure etc., has a huge by product of waste, plastic and natural resources.
So, what is happening to try and not only reduce the amount of plastic we humans ‘demand’, but also clean up and repair the damage that we have already wreaked?
There is a growing awareness of this issue, and of what people are doing, even on small local scales, to make a difference…
In a larger sense, single-use plastics like product packaging and bottles seems to have been a really good place to start. Huge Global retailers such as L’Oreal, Nestle, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Unilever, Walmart, Ecover and Evian are all working towards only using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, founded in 2010 by the sailing legend herself, is a multi-functional and international operation geared towards creating and supporting a ‘Circular Economy’. In essence the three operating principles are:
Design out waste and pollution
Keep products and materials in use
Regenerate natural systems
Their impressive list of partners and fierce intent mean that they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to fighting the war against plastic – on land or at sea.
Innovative company Water3 in Australia has created a water kiosk system that allows you to refill a water bottle with chilled spring water. You can either use your own re-useable water bottle for a small charge, or one of Water3’s stainless steel bottles embedded with a chip to allow you to store credit on your account. You can purchase credit via their app and never use a plastic water bottle again.
Scientists are working ceaselessly on trying to devise more eco-friendly materials to replace plastic, or to find ways of effectively destroying the indestructible plastic that is already cluttering up the planet. In 2016, scientists made an amazing discovery at a rubbish dump in Japan. They found the first bacterium that had evolved to eat plastic. This ‘bug’ consequently produces an enzyme which scientists ‘tweaked’ in order to understand how it had evolved and inadvertently accidentally adapted the molecule to be even more efficient at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, used particularly for plastic bottles. This phenomenal discovery could become the way that we can turn plastic back into its original components, effectively “recycling plastic back into plastic” therefore removing the need to dig up more oil and also reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.
This is just a vignette into the massive business of reducing our plastic consumption and the clean-up of our oceans and lands. We need to encourage more more companies and conglomerates to head in this vital direction, in order to try and slow the damaging process that is so well underway. However, there is also an awful lot going on at ‘ground level’ to clean up and regenerate our beaches and oceans, and ‘people power’ is never more present as a force for good than when people get together to take responsibility. A good example of this is beach clean-ups. They are happening all over the world on a regular basis and the great thing about them is that anyone can start one, and anyone can take part in one.
One of the world’s biggest and most publicised beach cleans took place in Mumbai, India. In 2015, a lawyer named Afroz Shah moved to a flat near Versova beach in Mumbai and was horrified by the pollution there. Every square inch of the large beach was entirely covered in rubbish, mostly plastic, and in some places it was 5.5 feet deep. This man made it his mission, along with his 84-year-old neighbour, to clean up the beach. Realising this wasn’t going anywhere fast, Afroz started knocking on doors and appealing to the entire neighbourhood to come and help him fix this catastrophe. Two years and many thousands of volunteer hours later, this community has picked up an astonishing 11,684,500 pounds of garbage, mostly plastic, and because of the love of ONE man for the ocean, there is now a beautiful beach that can be enjoyed by generations to come. There are beach clean operations up and running in many countries across the world now, as well as clean ups in the water. You can google it and find one near you and get involved!
There are also conservation efforts on the water, like the non-profit marine wildlife and conservation outfit Sea Shepherd. They have many environmental campaigns underway, including ones to cleanse the oceans of plastics. The Ocean Clean Up is a growing organisation that was founded in 2013 by 18 year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat. They have created a revolutionary system, which will be deployed later this year, that will remove half the GPGP in five years. It’s a passive system involving the use of huge floating ‘pipe walls’ with screens that float beneath. Numerous other independent operations are out there, cleaning up our oceans one piece of garbage at time and they deserve our unending gratitude for their heroic contributions to all of our futures.
So, what are some things you can do as yacht crew to help this crisis?
Here are a few tips and ideas to get you started:
Don’t use plastic bottles! Invest in a cheap, stainless steel bottle for taking ashore and refill it. Think about getting your boat to provide guests with their own stainless water bottles for charters.
Chefs – be mindful of packaging. Of course it’s hard to buy food in some locations, but wherever possible, buy fruit and veg by weight and not encased in plastic.
Be mindful of potential littering at sea when underway. A lot of ocean rubbish comes from items blown off boats, so please ensure there’s nothing that can get swept overboard when you’re underway. Fishing gear is particularly harmful to ocean wildlife and it will strangle turtles, sharks and anything else it gets wrapped around.
Take cloth bags whenever you go ashore. Aim to never accept plastic bags when you go shopping. They are hugely harmful to the environment.
Cut can 6-pack rings into lots of little pieces. If these find their way into the water, they kill sea creatures and birds. Turtles have been found with these around them and their shells have mutated to grow around them.
Don’t accept plastic straws in your drinks and try to stop using them on the boat. Replace them with paper straws or metal straws, such as the ones that we hand out at events. Come and find us at the next one and grab one for yourself!
Never buy any cosmetics that have anything but natural exfoliating ingredients in them. These microplastics are often called ‘microbeads’ or micro-exfoliates’ and are one of the most dangerous things you can wash down the drain as they are too small to be filtered out of water systems.
ALWAYS take your rubbish with you. You are lucky enough to work in some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Keep them that way.
Use your voice. This is a powerful one, and one you can ALL do. Talk to people about this, educate people, show you care and BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE.
We hope that you implement as many of these ideas as you can, and spread the word about this crisis. The ocean is our home, and we need to ALL feel the weight of our responsibility. Remember, one person can make a huge difference.