Articles, Nature, Oneness

Making Every Day, Earth Day: A Sea of Plastic

June 8, 2016

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Today is World Ocean’s Day.  TTDOG launched this series of articles after thinking about the phrase  “Every Day Should Be Earth Day.”

How can we make every day, earth day?  To be certain, it involves changing behaviour and consumption patterns.  Changing our behaviour can seem overwhelming but it can be broken down into manageable pieces beginning with a single first step.  And so, TTDOG offers this series of articles on different aspects of our ecological crisis so that each of us can choose at least one aspect and even just one action to get started.  We will see the ripples expand.

But, first, all behavioural change begins with one discrete decision:  changing our values and committing to living in alignment with those values.

To do this, TTDOG has suggested working with the concept of Oneness.  Unless we are masochistic, really understanding our Oneness with the Earth will undoubtedly cause grief at the destruction we have created.  Our hope is that we can not only play witness to what is,  but make that first discrete decision that can lead us to make every choice one of mindful consumption and of contribution to the rebirth of our world.

Like everyone else, TTDOG is stepping out of our area of expertise and our comfort zone in taking this journey to address our current ecological crisis not only with practical personal action but by participating in a global paradigm shift of awareness and values.   We invite all readers to share their own insights and concerns.  In fact, please contact us if they would like to contribute articles, artwork and ideas toward working with Oneness and Making Every Day, Earth Day.

 

Forgotten Mythologies of the Sea

In many cultures and religions, the sea is controlled by a divinity that is both a benign giver of life and a wrathful destroyer of mankind.  How we are treated depends on how we treat the sea.

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The Sea Witch by Andrea Villari

As a metaphor for the collective unconscious, she is the vessel of our dreams and of our emotions.  Through her tides and storms, she is depicted as the vehicle for the souls heroic journey from ignorance to enlightenment.

She is a metaphor for Oneness itself.    In the words of the poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi:

You are not a drop in the ocean; You are the entire ocean in a drop

From the sea, humans emerged.  For the last 600 years, the human part of the story of the sea has largely been one of exploration, conquest and consumption.  Through our trance-like pursuit of  advancement, we have not only neglected our Mother Ocean, but we have poisoned her – and in the process, ourselves.

The impacts of our activities all bear reflection on World Oceans Day and include climate change, coral reef acidification, rising sea temperatures, sea level rise and species extinctions.  In this piece, however, we will consider one small part of our impact on marine systems:  plastic pollution.

 

A Sea of Plastic:

Some of the greatest advancements of the modern age has been in the field of material science. One of the most revolutionary materials to be developed is plastic. Strong, flexible, mouldable, and cheap, plastic has allowed us to venture into space, advance medical science with life-saving technologies, create warm shelters for ourselves and increase our productivity with computers, transportation and meals on the go. Yet, in our brash advancement, we failed to consider the lifecycle of what we were creating. Today, plastics from broken, outworn, depleted and unwanted goods is fill our landfills and are poisoning our marine ecosystems.

 

Attribution, Non Commercial

Artwork by Common Folk

 

Plastics have enabled advances in almost every area of modern life.  However, production of plastic requires large quantities of fossil fuels (which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions) and water (which contribute to water scarcity issues).  Extracting fossil fuels from oil sands, the ocean floor and from within the earth’s crust has caused oil spills, and pollution of marine and freshwater systems.  The cost of that disposable water bottle and mobile phone would be inconceivably high, were we to factor in the environmental impacts, for ourselves and future generations.

Every piece of plastic that has ever been created, since the 19th century, still exists somewhere on this planet, in some form.

According to IWMA, 86% of ocean debris is made up of plastic. Solar radiation breaks down larger pieces of plastic into micro particles that have been found on the ocean floor and which make our way into the food chain.  What that means, is that we are eating plastic and if these micro particles are are unable to be digested, they will become a foreign part of our bodies and will trigger our defence systems to begin an attack on our own bodies.

Ocean pollution by micro plastics comes not only from rubbish that makes its way into the sea; Products which we consume every day are made with micro plastics called microbeads. Microbeads are found in everything from facewash to cosmetics to toothpaste. These micro particles of plastic are washed down our drains and find their way into the watercourses, remaining in the environment for at least 50 years.

Micro plastics impact on humans not only through the food chain but directly through the chemicals contained in them. Hormone disruption, obesity, and infertility are just some of the impacts that have been linked with plastics in our ecosystem. Because microbeads add to the existing problem of micro plastic waste, several countries have been seeking to ban the use of microbeads in consumer goods.

And lest we become human-centric, let us remember that plastics in our ocean ecosystem kill more than 1 million ocean mammals and birds every year.  Every year, thousands of birds die from suffocation by ingesting plastics or getting their necks caught in the plastic rings that surround beverage cans in our shops.

There is no gentler way to say it:  Our careless use and disposal of plastics is killing us and our ocean ecosystems.

Attribution, non commercial

Artwork by Zoe Nowak

 

Currently there is ground breaking research being led by Dutch inventor, Boyan Slat, in the Netherlands which seeks to use ocean currents to clean sections of the ocean of its plastic.  This technology, whilst innovative and promising, is not without controversy, in terms of the impact it may have on marine life and on its ability to eliminate micro particles from the ocean floor.  Research is also being conducted into alternative, non-petroleum based plastics that can replace current plastics, and are capable of biodegrading and being re-used in a closed loop system.  However, this is years away from being a feasible manufactured solution.  End of lifecycle research is also being conducted and entrepreneurs are experimenting with novel uses for upcycling plastics.

All of these technological advances provide hope for the future, but if these solutions to the marine plastic pollution that we have created is to have any impact, ultimately, we must stop contributing to the problem that ocean cleaning and upcycling is attempting to resolve.

TTDOG offers the following simple suggestions as a starter to help generate our own ways of building a renewed relationship with the sea and aligning our behaviour with our values.

 

Let’s educate ourselves and others

Let’s choose (if only for  today) to spend some time considering our relationship to the sea and the plastic waste that is in our oceans.   And let’s share our insights, our fears, our sorrows and our creative suggestions for building a better relationship with the sea and healing the ecological crisis that we have created.  It is easier to make changes when we are surrounded by people who share our concerns.  If we cannot find people who care about the sea, by sharing our fears and sorrow, perhaps we can encourage others to care.

 

Reflect on the value chain of your food, at every meal

Let’s take a moment before eating to consider what parts of the meal were packaged in single use plastic. When we are finished eating, how will we store our leftovers?  Do we use glass or do we use plastic containers?  How much of the plastic waste from our consumption will be upcycled or recycled?   We are what we eat.  Was any part of our meal from the sea?

Let’s consider what we would like to do differently, based on this reflection, and take action to change our habits to align with what we value.

 

Spend time at the seaside and on or in the ocean

Many of us may never have been to the seaside.  Many of us may never have had the chance to swim in the ocean.  Certainly many of us have never had the opportunity to go sailing, snorkeling or whale watching.

The seaside is a wonderful place.   Many people who visit the ocean experience a sense of calm and peace, no matter what is going on in their lives.  Many are able to experience the vastness of the sea and begin to feel a connection to that something that is bigger than ourselves.  Watching the sunrise or the sunset on the ocean can be a contemplative time that allows us to slow down and create the space, perhaps, to begin to question ourselves, our lifestyle and whether our choices are aligned with our values.

 

Artwork by Thomasz Zaczeniuk

Surfing with wales by Thomasz Zaczeniuk

 

Let us make a plan today to do something specific to encounter sea life in its natural habitat.  Swimming where dolphins migrate close to shore, taking ecological tours to see whales in their habitats, snorkeling and scuba diving all bring us closer to the beautiful creatures of marine ecosystems.  If this is not achievable, is there perhaps an aquarium nearby?  Let’s plan to slow down and watch the marine life in one particular window of the aquarium for at least 20 minutes and really notice the beauty of the marine life we see.

If we get to the seaside, we may notice a lot of rubbish floating on the surface or being churned in the tide.  Have you ever, in your life, used a plastic bag or drank soda or water from a bottle?  Your rubbish is still out there, right along with mine.

Consider what we would like to do differently, as a result of this experience? Let’s make a single step toward that, today.

 

Create a beach cleanup day, with a difference

Let’s create a beach cleanup day, with a difference.  Whether we organise our own, or participate in an existing cleanup, let’s take the time to really look at the rubbish that is on the beach.  Consider that for every piece of plastic waste, there is much more microplastic not visible to the eye.  Consider that what ends up on the beach is only a miniscule fraction of what remains in the sea and on the bottom of the ocean floor.

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Oceanside Beach Cleanup by Anne Hall

 

Let’s recycle what can be recycled, and if there is a business in the area that is working with upcycling, consider working with them to provide them the retrieved plastics.

Let’s take time at the end of the cleanup to enjoy the seaside.  Maybe make a bonfire on the beach and tell stories around the fire that revolve around the sea.  Or, if it is a family event, encourage the  children to act out a story with characters (dolphins, turtles, fish, crabs) from the sea.  Perhaps they can be encouraged to speak, in character, about how they feel about the way humankind is treating the ocean.

Let’s find a way to remember and create new mythologies of the sea whilst cleaning up the pollution we have all created.

 

 Use your own cloth or hemp shopping bags

One of the simplest behavioural changes we can make is to bring a bag with us, when we leave the home.  We don’t always know when we will buy something, so keep an environmentally friendly bag in our pocket, rucksack, or handbag.

Non commercial, attribution

Artwork by Federico de Cicco

Refuse single use plastics and plastic packaging

Where possible, let’s seek out shops that allow us to refill our own containers.  We can buy loose vegetables and weigh them, without a bag, at the self checkout.  Let’s bring our your own stainless steel coffee cup for takeaway coffees and use a stainless steel water bottle filled with filtered tap water.  At the grocery store, let’s buy goods from the bulk bins or choose items from manufacturers that have made the effort to reduce their packaging.  Where pre-packaged, buy items in glass (like milk) or paper packaging which is biodegradable or reusable.  Re-use clean glass containers for food storage or for transporting your packed lunches to work.   Let’s decide today to categorically refuse unnecessary single use plastics like straws,  and/or to  switch from a disposable plastic razor to a metal one with blade refills.

There is a lot that we can do in this one small area to eliminate the use of single use plastics and plastic packaging.

 

Eliminate the use of cosmetics containing Microbeads

Let’s find out which of our cosmetics use microbeads and stop buying them.  We can find alternatives to these or check out the David Suzuki Foundation or Mother Earth News or Treehugger  for ideas on how to make our own products that are not harmful to the environment.  If we have a favourite product that we feel we cannot live without, let’s  write to the company or start an online petition to the company to ask them to eliminate the use of microbeads in their product formula.

Attribution, non commercial, no derivatives

Artwork by Rebekah Richardson

Seek out biodegradable or compostable rubbish bags and plant based plastics

Let’s compost all organic waste, recycle all that is possible in our region, and with what is left, ensure that our consumption patterns mean that there is no non-biodegradable plastic within our waste, or making up the bag we send to landfill.  Rather than send whatever waste remains to landfill in a plastic bag which does not biodegrade in our lifetimes, let’s seek out rubbish bags that do use biodegradable material.

There are repercussions of using plants for mass production of plastics and organisations like the World Wildlife Fund are working with businesses to ensure that production is sustainable. One impact, for example is that using plant based feed stock for plastics may drive up food prices for the poor. Let’s not allow ourselves to become complacent about our consumption.

For instance, recently a company invented edible six pack beverage rings.   The press coverage could lead people to believe that beverage rings were no longer a threat to marine and bird life.  This is not the case.  The rings are used by one small brewery only, and all rings should still be cut up to avoid animal entrapment.

Replace Diapers and Feminine Hygiene Products with Reusable Products

Given our busy lives, this may seem overly burdensome.  However, diapers sent to landfill create a biohazard for the community and do not biodegrade.  Similarly, in North America alone, 20 million pieces of feminine hygiene products are sent to landfill or into our water courses each year.  These, too, constitute bio hazardous waste.  And, with an ageing population, there has been a noticeable rise in incontinence products now clogging up our landfills and making their way into our oceans, as well.

Recycling schemes are beginning to pop up, however, taking into consideration the power and water requirements, it still seems that a more environmentally friendly solution is to switch to cloth diapers,  cloth maxi pads and a menstrual cup and cloth incontinence pads.  Again, TTDOG does not suggest we must be perfect in all of our behaviour change.  But, perhaps we can make the switch on those days when we will be spending the day in our homes, working from home or have a light menstrual flow.  Even making this partial shift will make a significant difference to the amount of plastic we send to landfill or that makes its way into our oceans.

It is worth noting that our ancestors used cloth for all of these purposes, for hundreds of years.

 

Choose natural fabrics

Polar Fleece, nylon and polyester are among the many synthetic fabrics that are made from plastics.  Like all plastic products, they do not biodegrade and have been found in the oceans.

If we haven’t already, let’s go forward by switching our future purchases to natural fabrics.  For those synthetic items in our wardrobe already, let’s ensure that they do not end up in our oceans or landfill.  Let’s participate in programs like the North Face Clothes The Loop program which repurposes synthetic fabrics and keeps them out of landfill and our oceans.

 

Remember there are three R’s – Reduce, Re-use, and only then, Recycle

Having reduced, and eliminated the use of as many plastics as possible, let’s reuse what we can safely reuse, and only then, recycle. We need not be the one to reuse our plastic.  If a business in the area is developing uses for existing plastics, let’s engage with them to see if we can bring our own, or our neighbourhood’s or workplace’s plastics to them for a second life.

If an item cannot be reused or recycled, let’s pause and consider our values at the checkout counter.  Is there not some creative way to forego buying it? For instance, instead of plastic wrap, let’s use glass containers to keep foods fresh and use paper or cloth to wrap sandwiches for workplace lunches. And remember that all white goods and electronics – which use significant amounts of plastic – must be recycled, in the EU.

Recycling should be our last resort because only two types of plastic are widely recyclable.  Even these plastics are currently recycled into a lower grade plastic that is not further recyclable and is likely then to end up in our oceans.

Attribution, non commercial, no derivatives

Artwork by Ryan Miranda

 

 

The current ecological crisis, and its impact on our oceans, has developed from our individualism and destructive consumption.  By working to restore a reverence for the oceans and to align our consumption with our sense of Oneness with the earth, we can make Every Day, Earth Day.

 

As a starter, here are some links:

Working with Oneness

The Ocean Cleanup (with Boyan Slat)

World Wildlife Fund

Greenpeace

David Suzuki Foundation

Wake-up World

We’d love to hear from you.

Please share your insights with the TTDOG community!

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  • Reply Urspo June 8, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Fabulous entry!

    My favorite though was the quotation “You are not a drop in the ocean; You are the entire ocean in a drop.” I am keeping this one.

    • Reply Tania D. Campbell June 8, 2016 at 9:48 pm

      Thank you. What can I say, that dude Rumi had a way with words!! 🙂

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