(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
Did you know that it takes 450 years for plastic to decompose? So every bottle, every plastic bag, even every clothing item with polyester that we wear, lives far beyond the useful life humans give to it. How many times have we stood at the supermarket and taken the plastic bag the cashier hands to us, when we could just as well store our new purchase in our backpacks? How many times have we decided to buy a plastic water bottle instead of using a reusable one simply because it seems to be more convenient? How often do we drink soda, juice, water with straws, when we could be sipping off of the cup instead? These little acts of plastic consumption, each represent an additional material that will remain on our planet for 450 more years, entering the food system, causing the death of other animals, and polluting the Earth we should be taking care of.
Last Tuesday, we spent the whole day doing a marine litter workshop. Staff members from GVI presented data and facts about marine litter, specifically plastics, and how they are affecting our oceans. Although the information presented was not new to me, it reminded me of how much I care for the ocean. Ever since I was 15 years old and living back in Brazil, I have been an adamant beach trash collector. I’ve given people looks when picking up their trash for them after a long day at the beach and I’ve talked to locals about how the fish in the bay at Praia da Cocanha, the beach I visit, have been disappearing over the past years. Sometimes, though, this kind of work seems unappreciated. When you read that every year 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean, picking up a couple of bags of trash at the beach seems like an act that is almost too small. But rehearing the facts about marine litter has reignited this passion.
I’m glad to be spending time this trip collecting trash at the beach. A recent article I read based on the research of Van Sebille and Sherman explains how useful collecting coastal trash is in reducing marine litter . They found that instead of collecting trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is more effective to collect trash at coastlines. In this way, you prevent the initial entry of plastic into the ocean. The research showed that if microplastic collectors were placed in the coasts of China and Indonesia, they could remove 31% of microplastics, almost double of what could be removed if the collector were placed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Although during this trip we will not be placing large collectors at the coastline, picking up trash at the beach before it has the chance to get into the food system is extremely valuable. There are 12 of us — if we each collect 2 large bags of trash each week while we are here, we will not only be diminishing the amount of trash that goes into the ocean, but maybe even show other tourists how they can help minimize their travel impacts.