In the last decade, we managed to dump billions of tons of plastic into the ocean. A recent report projects that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. We obviously can`t rely on policy leaders, change will have to come through communities.
Plastic is everywhere and never biodegrades. 800 million tons of plastic is released into the ocean every year, with no end in sight. Although widely circulated information may lead consumers to believe that plastics are easily and often recycled, the reality is that only 5 percent of plastic products end up in the right recycling bin. Instead, 40 percent are dumped in landfills and another third end up in “fragile ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.” Some countries in Asia, among these Thailand, are identified as gravely polluting countries. This is not about pointing the finger at them, but it helps to understand where political support is needed to improve the situation (more information see report “Ocean Conservancy, McKinsey Center for Business and Environment: Stemming the tide – Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean”).
The consequences are proving disastrous: more than one million animals are killed every year by either entanglement in plastic or by starving to death with plastic-filled stomachs. Even pristine and isolated beaches are often covered with plastic bags, bottles, straws, lighters etc. Microplastic has already entered our food chain and groundwater.
Yes…we are overloaded with frustrating pictures and daily bad news. We know that we have to change our habits, but we feel overwhelmed and powerless by the sheer monstrosity and complexity of the situation.
As it`s often the case, we just underestimate our influence. Consumers can stop using senseless products like straws, refuse plastic bags in stores and use reusable bags instead, and so on. Big companies and supermarkets already reacted to the increasing demand of reusable materials by selling degradable products or ban plastic bags from their stores.
But let’s go back to us and our daily behavior. Mainly on grassroot level, people get involved, take action and put great ideas into reality. More and more organisations address the plastic issue, try to find solutions and create a unifying wave of change.
One great example, especially for Thailand, is Trash Hero. It all started in 2013 with 2 people initiating weekly cleanups at the beaches of Koh Lipe. Ideas like reusable stainless steel drinking bottles combined with free water refill stations, reusable bags or bamboo garbage bins took shape and got realised soon. In 2015, Trash Hero received the Thailand Green Excellence Award, which shows that awareness grows within Thailand!
By now there are 14 Trash Hero branches in Thailand. 11,919 people have cleaned 154,805 kg of trash in 654 cleanup events. Participating tourists took the idea with them and brought it to Indonesia, Malaysia, USA and Europe.
In April 2016, Trash Hero has teamed up with CORE sea and other eco-oriented businesses on Koh Phangan. Together with volunteers, locals and tourists we are cleaning the beach of Chaloklum once a month, but of course, it`s not enough. Collective beach clean-ups, recycle trash bins and the introduction of reusable bottles and bags all over the island are just some ideas. Therefore we need all possible support. Spread the word! Together we can make a difference!
While collecting other people’s garbage is a great social, community building, and fun activity, you should stop and reconsider your use of plastic materials every once in a while. There is simply no reason for 80% of the plastic we find on beaches to exist. Instead of using plastic bottles, why not grab a fancy looking Hydroflask, and refill?
A foldable shopping bag fits in your bikini bottom, which might look funny, but there is literally no good reason to carry your plastic wrapped plastic bottle of coconut water in a 7-11 bag. Unless you’re just flipping lackadaisical about things.
Featured image via: http://www.greenecoservices.com/
About the Oceans
Susanne studied biology in Munich, Germany, and finished her diploma on Koh Phangan’s fishes at the CS field station in 2011. She joined the team in 2016, leading the trash reduction and waste management campaigns, and other marine conservation activities.
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