by Patricia Plackett
A summary of a Suzuki Elder Salon held on 26 October 2017, Vancouver, B.C.
The salon was organized by:
Mel Bilko, David Clayton, Erzsi Institorisz, Yiman Jiang, Maria Kim, David Plackett, Patricia Plackett and Erlene Woollard.
Estimates suggest that between 5 and 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in oceans every year. By 2050 it is projected that there could be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish; understandably, concerns about potential implications for all consumers of marine products are rapidly escalating.
This salon had two related goals – to give participants a deeper understanding of key issues associated with the growing amount of plastic in oceans and to provide them with a chance to discuss what they might do in their daily lives to contribute to solutions.
Four questions were addressed:
Question 1 – How big is the plastic in oceans problem?
Plastic is being used more and more widely because of its durability and other properties, often in rather surprising applications such as fleece jackets, shampoos and teabags. Currently, 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year and plastic debris has been documented in all marine environments – coastlines, open ocean, sea surface and sea floor as well as deep-sea sediments and Arctic sea ice.
How does plastic end up in the ocean? —> https://youtu.be/GkV76AqUor4
Question 2 – How serious is the plastic in oceans problem?
Oceanic winds and currents create huge circular whirlpools of plastic – the so-called garbage patches or gyres – that adversely affect marine life. Analyses of marine bird and animal stomach contents reveal an assortment of plastic bottle caps, lighters and pieces of plastic as well as plastic bags. The increasingly small fragments into which oceanic plastic breaks – microplastics – can be mistaken for marine food and the much smaller nanoplastic particles may even cross into the cells of marine organisms and into the human food chain.
David Attenborough in Plastic Oceans film —> https://youtu.be/cX1T79ZKJqM
Question 3 – How much plastic is in seafood?
The marine food chain starts with phytoplankton and progresses up to large marine mammals such as orca whales. Although researchers have found plastic in the phytoplankton consumed by many sea creatures and also in fish and shellfish, they are still working to determine precisely how significantly plastic affects food safety and food security for human beings.
Microplastics entering the food chain —> https://youtu.be/Yu5Dw6rwZvE
Question 4 – Doesn’t recycling help solve the plastic in oceans problem?
Although recycling is becoming more widespread and effective, it is estimated that less than 5% of plastic produced is recycled. It is said that every piece of plastic ever made, regardless of its composition, will be with us forever in one form or another. A recycling plant tour suggests that rather large amounts of plastic intended to be recycled may end up in trash under current recycling practices.
The Zero Waste Lifestyle—> https://vimeo.com/127441759
What about solutions?
It has been argued that we rely far too heavily on plastic for a very wide range of applications and yet we value it so little that much of it ends up as trash, often after a single use. Consequently, the real focus in rethinking plastics should be on placing a much higher value on it, regarding it as treasure and not as trash.
Strategies could involve eliminating applications for which other suitable options exist and also making waste plastic more recyclable into new products as well as adopting Zero Waste Lifestyles that reduce consumer needs for plastic packaging and plastic products.
Inspirational examples demonstrate some progress in finding solutions. Vancouver’s Nada, a zero-waste grocery store, and The Soap Dispensary, the city’s first dedicated refill shop, eliminate the need for plastic packaging. Some local communities have engaged in plastic waste reduction as in the case of Tofino where an exceptionally successful campaign focused on ridding local businesses of plastic straws and providing paper ones only upon request. Globally, there are various examples of products in which plastic has been replaced by other materials such as bagasse in tableware and seaweed in edible sachets and wrappers.
The solutions discussed in each of the salon discussion groups and those proposed at the end of the salon will be presented in subsequent posts on the ReThinking Plastic series on this website. Challenges will also be posted for those wishing to continue learning about the complex problem of plastic in oceans.
As we think about solutions that will reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans, let us remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “We are continually faced with great opportunities brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.”
We welcome your views. Please share your thoughts under the Leave a comment heading (at the bottom of this post). Watch for related posts on this theme in the coming weeks and months.