Published on November 6th, 2017 | by Steve Hanley0
New Photos Highlight Ocean Plastic Scourge, Bottle Deposit Plans Could Help
November 6th, 2017 by Steve Hanley
Caroline Power is an underwater photographer who has lived on the island of Roatan in Honduras for the past 11 years. She says the amount of plastic trash floating in the ocean near her home has increased dramatically in the past several years. Recently, while taking a group of tourists on a diving expedition, she took a series of photographs of the plastic trash she encountered along the way and posted them on her Facebook page. Those photos have now gone viral.
A Sea Of Trash
Seeing the plastic blanket of forks, bottles and rubbish between her home island of Roatan and the dive site on nearby Cayos Cochinos was shocking and upsetting, she tells The Telegraph. “To see something that I care so deeply for being killed, slowly choked to death by human waste was devastating,” she told The Telegraph. “Once the trash is in the ocean, it is incredibly difficult and costly to remove. The key is to stop the trash before it enters the ocean. In order for that to happen, we need to improve waste management, environmental education and recycling facilities on a global scale. This is a developed nation (first world) problem as well.”
Her photos have caused shock and outrage among the many ocean conservation groups in the world. They highlight the extent to which trash from human society continues to flow into the oceans of the world, turning them into open sewers. She says she hopes the pictures will make more people aware of the problem and encourage them to “make changes to their habits and daily lives to help protect and conserve this planet.”
Part of that change is thinking about how we use plastics in our daily lives. “Think globally, act locally,” is still the core strategy for people who want to make a difference but don’t know how to begin. Power asks, “How was your last fast food food served? Chances are that it was isopor-based and served with a plastic fork and put in a plastic bag. Are you still using plastic trash bags? Plastic bottles? Plastic wrapping on the food? I challenge all persons and companies to keep all the trash in a week. Sort out the organic and recyclable, and keep everything else. You will be sick of how much disposable packaging you use. “
Her discovery was “also motivating,” she says. “I drastically increased efforts to reduce my environmental footprint after seeing that. I hope the photos will inspire people to do the same.” She has asked people to donate to the Roatan Marine Park, an organization working to protect Roatan’s fragile coral reefs.
Recycling Is The Key
Marianne Olsen is marine biologist and research director for marine pollution at NIVA , the Norwegian Institute of Water Research. “Unfortunately, about 50% of plastic will only be used once before it is discarded,” she tells Norwegian news outlet Dagbladet.”Everyone is affected by seeing so much plastic in nature, especially when we find that innocent animals are hurting it or beautiful natural areas are covered with waste. It is tragic when you see, for example, turtles and other marine animals with plastic around the body or in the stomach. It becomes very clear that we do something that is not good for nature,” she says. “It’s really the consumer community at its worst — use and throw away, without relating to what happens afterwards.”
In Scandinavia, aggressive recycling programs have been in place for a number of years. A small fee is added to all plastic and metal containers at the time of purchase. When empty, they are returned to a recycling machine located at most retail stores. The machines grade and sort each container and issue a credit that can be applied to new purchases or redeemed for cash at checkout. Fees range from 12 cents for small containers up to 30 cents for larger items.
Leif Hansen from Bergen, Norway, tells me in an e-mail, “You will never ever find a soda can or bottle anywhere in the environment. Are there any negative impacts on drink sales? Not a single dime’s worth I am told!” This short video explains how the system works. It’s in Norwegian, but it’s largely self explanatory even if you don’t speak the language.
The Scandinavian experience demonstrates the effectiveness of imposing fees on the use of items that have a negative impact on the environment. Disposal fees are now customarily added to car batteries and tires to help defray the cost of disposing of them at the end of their useful lives. It is long past time to institute modest refundable fees to promote wise use of plastic containers.
The beverage industry has bitterly opposed such ideas in many countries, especially the United States, where industry lobbyists warn that such fees will bankrupt soft drink companies, throw tens of thousands out of work, crash the economy, contribute to crime, and lead to social unrest. All because they want to pass on the cost of the waste they create to society, just as the fossil fuel industry is all too happy to do. It is time to elect representatives who will lead rather than be lap dogs for corporate interests.
Photo credits: Caroline Power. Hat tip to Leif Hansen