Plastic-free at Work
Words / Anna Hickey
Have you heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Or any other oceanic garbage patches, for that matter? According to Jennifer Gabrys’ Monitoring and Remediating a Garbage Patch, there’s a number of substantial convergences of plastic debris in our oceans, referred to as “garbage patches”. The Great Pacific Garbage patch is said to be up to three times the size of Texas. Commonly referred to by scientists as the Eastern Pacific Trash Vortex, it is located in a stretch of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California.
Garbage Ocean Patches:
Garbage patches are able to form in still waters caused by ocean gyre, a system of circular ocean currents created by global wind patterns and Earth’s rotation. Ocean gyre make for the perfect home to large reservoirs of flotsam. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first discovered in 1997 by oceanographer, Charles Moore. On that fateful day, Moore, travelling through the Pacific after a Transpacific Yacht Race, chose a slightly different route, leading to its accidental discovery. Since then he has since dedicated much of his time and efforts to raising awareness of the marine pollution issues we face as a global society, noting that an ocean free of plastic waste is of utmost importance for the survival of marine species.
Before you search Google Earth expecting to see a garbage patch of floating plastic, it’s worth explaining that the term “garbage patch” is more a metaphor, similar to the idea of a “hole in the ozone layer”. American oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer created the phrase “garbage patch” as a way to describe the tendency for flotsam to collect in sub-orbiting gyres. It’s a way to describe the sheer magnitude of impact that plastic debris has on oceans globally.
What they consist of:
According to Charles Moore, the debris ranges from fishing nets and aquaculture infrastructure to bottles, caps, toothbrushes and various types of plastic containers. There are considerable quantities of these plastics in the converging oceanic areas, in varying stages of decomposition. Much of the plastics have become micro plastics that have been likened to a soup, smog and confetti in the ocean.
This is why you can’t typically see the garbage patch from Google Earth: the broken-down debris sits mostly underneath the surface of the ocean. Nevertheless the problem is there and is impacting on the natural environment. Jennifer Gabrys notes that plastic in these waters has even filtered through organisms that ingest the particles.
What can you do about it?
While this global problem seems overwhelming, there is much we can do as individuals and communities to stop the growth of oceanic garbage patches. Especially considering the debris found in the ocean and stomachs of deceased marine animals includes bottle caps, cotton bud shafts, toothbrushes and plastic shopping bags. These are all items of common consumption.
Understanding the environmental effects of plastic waste, along with realising that when you throw something away there is a chance that “away” ends up being the ocean, provides a chance to make smarter purchasing decisions to reduce plastic consumption and improve plastic management post-use.
Changes At Work:
- Don’t buy bottled water. If you have to buy a drink from a convenience store, choose one in glass.
- Don’t use takeaway coffee cups. Take the time enjoy a drink at the cafe or invest in a keep cup.
- If bringing your lunch to work, use a re-usable container rather than a cheap, harmful plastic container that should not be even used in the microwave.
- Keep a spare titanium straw in one of your desk drawers, so there is no need to waste on plastic straws.
- Ensure there are numerous recycling bins throughout the office.
- Spread the message through hanging a few motivational anti-plastic posters on the office’s noticeboards.
- Create a sustainability team.
- Give all employees a refillable sports bottle.
- Initiate a company-wide ban on single-use water bottles.
- Provide employee incentives for bringing in and using reusable bottles.
Changes At Home:
- Buy groceries from bulk food stores where possible to reduce plastic; this can also save you money.
- Leave a reusable produce bag in your car or handbag. A single plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to degrade.
- Buy household goods like laundry detergent in boxes instead of plastic containers.
- Make your own cleaning products.
- Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of disposable razors.
- Find a toothbrush that isn’t made out of plastic.
- When shopping, take a container with you to package meats in.
- Use bar soap instead of liquid hand soap.
- Choose lotions and lip balms that are in plastic-free containers.
- Try natural beeswax coated cloth wraps instead of plastic cling wrap.
Now is the time:
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a confronting reminder of the direct impact consumption has on the environment. The plastics that make up so much of life’s conveniences end up collecting and decomposing in oceans and seas, killing and harming marine life.
Scientists have shown that if nothing is done to curb plastic consumption and waste practices there is a risk that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. They have also shown we can create change and improve waterways, starting with ocean clean-ups and mindful consumption.
Now is the time to make small but significant change.