[Image: Plastic Ocean Waste | © The Independent Newspaper]
In the last 12 months the plastic ocean waste issue has (finally) cut through to become a more mainstream issue.
Whether because of shocking images of large floating 'garbage patches' in the Pacific Ocean, or footage of more and more marine animals being injured or killed by plastic waste, the public at large seems to have realised how much damage the plastic we use causes to the world we live in.
With an estimated 10 million tons of plastic finding its way into the world's seas and oceans every year, the burden our addiction to plastic packaging is placing on the only ecosystem we have to support us is increasing rapidly, with scientists only now beginning to fully understand the impact it could have in the decades to come.
Whilst floating marine plastic has perhaps provided the images that has caused people to sit up and take notice, it is actually the 99% now believed to be contained within the oceans themselves that is most worrying. Continually breaking down into smaller and smaller fragments, this plastic pollution has already found its way to some of the deeper and more remote parts of the world, where it has already been ingested by a wide range of marine organisms, as well as potentially disrupting some of the most basic 'life processes' on the sea floor.
Some innovative 'clean–up solutions' have already been suggested, however, rather like the climate change emergency, we are in the unfortunate situation where everyone benefits from a very cheap resource that makes life easier, whilst the solution relies on strong multilateral action over the long–term. Not the kind of situation that humanity has proven itself particularly adept at tackling in my lifetime.
In the meantime, we are left with the admirable efforts of NGOs like the WWF and Friends of the Earth trying to encourage individuals to reduce their plastic use – something that is frighteningly hard in our modern lives where we are too often held hostage to the convenience of plastic over other solutions.
Reducing this use of plastic by individuals is clearly important, but the gap, as with climate change, is once again a policy one as, without collaborative action by governments to combat the problem, we will find time getting away from us as the oceans continue to fill with the plastic waste we humans are incredibly successful at producing.
And as this waste piles up, we will very soon be left reflecting on the rather sobering fact that every single human being on earth is connected by the microscopic fragments of plastic that have found their way through the food chain and into our bodies – which is definitely not how John Lennon thought humanity could become more unified and 'as one' when he imagined a better future for us all.