A few months ago, I had a conversation with my 7-year old son about Plastic Waste and recycling. Check it out here: Conversations with my son – Plastic Waste. We talked about how much plastic waste enters our ocean every year and the impact it has on sea life and the environment. It was a way for me to help him understand why we recycle and practice his math at the same time. We also talked about why we have plastic and what it helped us with. It was a good short conversation, but I don’t think either of us were prepared to see firsthand the devastating effect plastic waste is having on the other side of the world, in what is (or was) considered a tropical paradise.
It is estimated that over 8 tons of plastic enters the ocean every year and some studies have estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
Over the last few weeks, we have been on a family vacation in Bali. It was the first multi-week vacation that we have taken in a while and the first real holiday as a family of four, so I had planned it down to the smallest details and we had built up our expectations to record heights, following the multitude of discussions we had had with friends who had ventured to Bali in the past.
Bali is an Island in the Indonesian archipelago and is arguably the most popular tourist destination of all the Indonesian Islands. Indonesia is an island country, for those that didn’t know, with more than 13.000 islands and the world’s 4th largest population after China, India and the US. It lies on the equator, so the climate tends to be roughly even all year long – kind of a year long summer place. However, there is a rainy season from October to April, but the rains usually go as fast as they come, so one can expect lots of sun every day even when it rains.
Bali has some amazing beaches, some with pristine yellow sand, others black from volcanic rock. There are coral reefs for diving, mountains and jungles for hiking and rice paddies and temples for practicing your Zen.
Go take a look on all those amazing tourism sites and check out the pictures. Do yourself a favor and go read or watch Eat, Pray, Love and you’ll understand why Bali remains a tourist favorite and is also a dream for easy living expats.
What all the brochures and websites don’t tell you is that Bali has a massive plastic problem. I’m talking the kind of problem that when you walk along the beach, you plan each step to avoid the bits of plastic. I’m talking the kind that when you venture along jungle trails, you constantly come across clumps of empty plastic water bottles. The kind that when swimming in the ocean, you’re constantly bumping into plastic. That kind of problem.
And it is a massive problem.
The picture below comes from a five step walk along the beach in Bali.
Recently the Guardian newspaper in the UK featured a video from a British diver, swimming under a floor of plastic that coated the ocean surface. Check it out here : https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2018/mar/06/so-much-plastic-british-diver-films-deluge-of-waste-off-bali-video
Apparently, plastic has been washing up all along the coast in Bali for several months now and is now truly a horrifying sight.
According to the above article, Indonesia alone produces about 13.000 tons of plastic and solid waste every day, with half reaching land fills and the rest either burnt or dumped in rivers and the sea. Indonesia is apparently the world’s second largest plastic polluter after China.
But from what I was seeing in and around Bali and from what I have read, this is not just an Indonesian problem. While waste management is obviously a concern all around the world, Indonesia and Bali are not alone in dealing with plastic waste in the sea and on the beaches.
South Africa is another country trying to deal with the devastating effects that plastic waste is having on our environment. Just the other day I was seeing pictures on my Instagram feed of pristine beaches in Cape Town littered with plastic waste after a storm.
Over 100 000 marine animals die each year as a result of plastic entanglement and ingestion.
There are dead zones in the oceans that have been created by pollution, and in which any form of life is impossible.
Plastic is the number one source of pollution in the ocean.
So why is this something we should care about?
Oceans make up over three quarters of the surface of the planet and hold 97% of the world’s water, which is something we need to continue to survive. Ocean’s also absorb the most carbon out of the atmosphere, more than any other part of the planet, and produce more than half of the oxygen in the air.
You can see that is pretty important to our long-term survival, that we continue to have oxygen to breath and also continue to take carbon out of the air, otherwise it becomes unbreathable and we all die. Also, we need water to drink to continue to function.
So again, why is plastic waste in the ocean an issue and surely it doesn’t impact the water?
In a recent study by Orb Media, researchers analyzed 159 tap water samples from cities across the globe. Plastic microfibers were found in 83% of the samples analyzed. The US had the highest contamination rate at 94%.
Where are these microfibers coming from?
You guessed it, the Ocean.
You remember your school classes that talked about the water cycle? If not, a quick reminder:
1.Sun shines down on the Ocean
2.The water evaporates and turns into clouds
3.The clouds rain down their contents on the mountains and land
4.The rain becomes rivers and lakes or are caught in tanks
5.We drink the water
And so what if there is plastic in our water?
Microfibers of plastic can absorb bacteria and chemicals (toxins) and when ingested can release that bacteria and toxins into our bodies. When plastic fibers are a nanometer in size they can be absorbed into our cells and organs. The Orb analyses identified fibers way bigger than a nanometer, which are more easily absorbed into our bodies.
In February of this year a young sperm whale washed up on the beach in Spain. What killed it? 30 kilograms/ 64 pounds of ingested plastic had caused the severe infection that killed the whale.
Still not getting it?
How about this! Remember the ocean dead zones? Ever come across a stagnant pond of water when walking outdoors? Normally not the most pleasant water holes to swim in and usually teeming with all sorts of pungent things. Now imagine drinking water that originated in those dead zones or that stagnant pond. Or at least drinking bits of plastic that have absorbed the contents of those dead zones. We’re not talking about very organic and friendly bits of stuff going right into our bodies.
And all this thanks to our plastic waste.
By now, I’m hoping you’re sitting up a bit straighter or at least googling about what I’m writing about. This is no longer something you just read about, this problem is now very visible.
That bit of plastic you toss out your car window or drop down right next to that trash can. Those bits of plastic are making their way into our rivers and right towards our oceans and we’re now drinking them.
And not just drinking them, we are also eating them.
Fish (river or sea) is one of the world’s most important sources of food and consumed all around the world.
Globally about 60 million people are engaged primarily in fishing; 80% in Asia.
About 12% of the world’s population rely on the fishing industry for their livelihoods. The majority in the developing world.
Imagine a world where fish consumption becomes dangerous. The economic consequences would be unimaginable. The value of the global fish trade is currently in excess of $150 billion.
We’re dealing with a pandemic that
-negatively impacts our health, and could potentially kill us
-directly threatens the livelihood of 12% of the world’s population,
–and which could put a significant dent on seaside locations and economies that now heavily rely on tourism.
Are our Governments doing anything about it?
In December 2017, 200 countries, including the U.S, signed a United Nations resolution to eliminate ocean plastic pollution. The U.S. then led the way on rejecting the draft legally binding resolution. The current US administration hasn’t made, and isn’t expected to make, any headwinds in helping work toward a globally accepted way forward.
So our governments are not doing anything.
There is currently only one solution : us.
We can find a solution, but we need to be willing to work together to find that solution.
We’re in a car heading fast toward a brick wall. We have control over the steering wheel, but will we grab it?
What are you doing about it?