Everything is in the shadow of the corona crisis. It is changing our everyday life, maybe our relationships and displaces almost all other important topics.
Hardly anyone still talks about microplastics or climate change, you don't hear anything about Greta anymore and the Fridays without Future are not what they once were. Nevertheless, all the problems that require urgent action are still there. Even or just when first reports tell us that human quarantine is extremely restful for the environment.
We should all remain aware that the virus is only one of many problems that need to be solved. Nevertheless, the environment needs our help; it needs our attention, even in our own homes, because our planet is still sinking into garbage. The WWF, for example, reports an estimate that 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste are released into the oceans every year - in other words, a truckload every minute. This waste is collected in swirls of garbage and plastic islands floating through the sea.
The largest and most famous swirl of garbage in the world cannot even be seen with the naked eye and is located in the North Pacific between Hawaii and California: The "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has an area of about 1.6 million square kilometers, which means it is so big that Germany would have four times the space in it.
Since these garbage ocean currents are always moving, it is not easy to give concrete information about them. The approximate locations are thanks to the American weather and oceanography agency NOAA and various model calculations. It is certain that there are four other large garbage maelstroms besides this one: the Indian, the South Pacific, the North Atlantic and the South Atlantic.
However, these garbage maelstroms are not a problem far away from us. Also the Mediterranean Sea is one of the most polluted sea areas with plastic and on the bottom of the North Sea you can find 11 kg of garbage on one square meter (WWF, as of 15.01.2020).
"I see something, what you also see ..."
Where does all this garbage come from? According to a Greenpeace study (Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans), about 80% of all garbage is produced on land, so it's not just something you can pin on beach-loving tourists. The household of a large German city in the interior of the country emits garbage to the sea every day, for example through the microplastics in cosmetics, clothing and cleaning products that surround us all. Through rivers and weather garbage gets into the sea. That is why everyday objects such as plastic bags and bottles, cups of yoghurt and drinks, buckets and canisters, packaging, care products, straws, cans, etc. can be found in the garbage swirls. Another major cause is the mass distribution of disposable plastic and the lack of organization to collect the waste and process it further.
A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows that industry from continents like Europe and North America is responsible for only 2% of the waste in the sea, but also for half of the global plastic production! Other estimates indicate that between 207,000 and 353,00 tonnes of the waste comes from EU countries. Southeast Asia has a big problem with waste, but it should be remembered that Germany has been exporting production waste and other commercial waste to this region for years, because recycling such waste is not worthwhile here. Since China imposed an import stop, the garbage is shipped to Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
This garbage is not good to recycle and the countries do not manage to work away everything. This is precisely why it is so important that more recyclable materials are used in production.
In general, however, the issue of waste is difficult to manage in developing and emerging countries. Here far less than 50% of waste is collected. Due to a lack of financial resources, collection, disposal and recycling does not work out this way. The waste piles up on land, is washed en masse into the sea and sooner or later returns to land. Through the strudel of the sea, the plastic disintegrates into microplastics and we get the receipt on our plates when we eat fish or seafood.
The sea is the largest ecosystem on earth; we need it to breathe: plankton, algae and microbes produce the largest amount of oxygen for us. We should thank the sea with more care and less rubbish.
"Clean up your mess, man!"
An organisation that tackles the problem is The Ocean Plastic Cleanup. It was founded in 2013 by Boyan Slat. In 2011 he discovered more plastic than fish in the water during a dive in Greece and decided to tackle the problem. During his first year in aerospace engineering at the Technical University of Delft, he worked on a method to provide sea-order. Today The Ocean Plastic Cleanup is a registered charitable foundation in the Netherlands ("Stichting") and a non-profit organization in the USA. With a team of over 90 scientists, engineers and researchers, he developed a cleaning system to clean oceans and intercept the plastic on its way into the sea. A giant filter attached to two U-shaped air hoses collects plastic debris that is driven in by ocean currents. The filter is three meters deep so that fish can swim through it at the bottom.
The Ocean Cleanup's cleaning technology moves with the currents like the plastic, harnessing the natural forces of the ocean. The electronics used are 100% solar powered and extract the plastic autonomously. The collected plastic is then brought ashore for recycling. Supporters can purchase the ocean plastic for their products; the proceeds will be used to finance the expansion to the other four ocean circles. Otherwise, the project is supported by commercial and governmental donations and sponsors.
But even the team of The Ocean Cleanup knows that the problem cannot be solved by their work alone. The consumption of plastic must be reduced urgently and disposal systems must be improved!
The ocean researcher Mark Lenz from Geomar in Kiel says: "We must solve the garbage problem on land", and hits the nail on the head with it.
Each of us can do something and make his contribution. What can you do? Try to live as plastic-reduced as possible. You can support CleanUps or organize some yourself and consume them more consciously.
The good thing is that you can do this now in the Corona Shadow. For example, by filling a garbage bag when you go for a walk. If you want to stock up on supplies, think about eating them when the crisis is over or if they would end up in the trash. And since you really have a lot of time at home now, you could try to make your own food or pickle it. Or just order a gift basket. 🙂