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Overflowing Trash Cans Lead to an Overwhelmed Ocean

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Los Angeles is a city overflowing:  with culture, with movies and music, with people—and with trash. A recent internal report shed light on a big problem. Los Angeles has more trash than it can handle. Despite its size (nearly 500 square miles), the city only has approximately 700 public trash cans.

That’s correct:  700. One public trash can for every 5,548 people. That math simply does not work.

We often assume items we throw away end up properly discarded in landfills—and they often do.  But overflowing trash cans, insufficient recycling systems, or a simple lack of basic waste collection in many countries, including our own, results in plastics and other forms of trash “escaping” into the environment, ultimately ending up in rivers, lakes and the ocean.

Los Angeles is simply one example of the growing plastics pollution problem threatening our global ocean.

The explosive growth of plastics consumption over the next decade will largely take place in rapidly industrializing countries, which also have some of the lowest waste collection rates on the planet. This consumption/waste collection mismatch results in massive inputs of plastic into the ocean. Just last month, a study in PLOS ONE revealed that more than 5 trillion pieces of plastics litter the ocean surface, while a subsequent publication in Royal Society Open Science shows that an equal, if not greater amount, of tiny plastic fragments are littering the deep sea.

A new solution of scale is required. There are many excellent initiatives such as local bag bans, local bottle deposit laws, and Ocean Conservancy’s own International Coastal Cleanup; however, these efforts alone will not stop the global onslaught of plastics entering the ocean.  Industry simply cannot afford to push more plastic down the pipe without a solution. The escalation of this challenge, if left unaddressed, may create massive liabilities, challenge food security, and waste huge amounts of valuable material.

Ocean Conservancy has developed a plan—and industries are getting on board.

Through our Trash Free Seas Alliance®, we are working with industry, economists, waste experts, and other NGOs  to identify ways for communities to profitably gather, separate, sell and store plastic waste streams, thus reversing the tide of plastics entering the ocean—and also advance the health, economies and well-being of the communities served.

Plastics have done, and continue to do, much good for the world, but plastic producers and consumer goods companies have to be held responsible for the end of life impact plastics impart on our ocean. An economically viable and equitable solution can and must be crafted to confront this global problem.

Ocean Conservancy is committed to getting the job done. It is big, bold and ambitious, but absolutely imperative if we wish, someday, to truly celebrate trash free seas.

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