We hear a lot of gloomy and horrifying news about the effect that our rejected plastic is having on the planet and particularly our oceans. Statistics such as the fact that 10% of the 300 million tons of plastic produced globally end up in the sea, that the ratio of plastic to plankton is 1:2 and that, if we don't act, plastic will outweigh fish by 2050. Even now, humans who eat seafood ingest 11,000 pieces of micro plastic a year. And those magical scenes you see in Blue Planet, narrated by David Attenborough's dulcet tones? Film crews often have to spend hours clearing up beaches before they can film.
However, all is not lost. There are some clever, innovative and downright inspiring people and institutions who are coming to the aid of the ocean (and therefore life on earth). These are the people we all wish we were, if only we had that magic combination of brilliant idea, get-up-and-go, and courage. Our plastic superheroes are tackling the problem from all angles - reducing demand for plastic, creating alternatives to plastic, helping ensure plastic is disposed of properly, finding ingenious ways to upcycle it and inventing efficient ways to get it out of the sea if it does end up there. Just a few who have caught our attention recently are mentioned below.
Boyan Slat is a 22-year-old Dutch entrepreneur and inventor (who studies aerospace engineering in his free time...). Currently mapping the oceans' plastic by air, he and his team are testing a prototype of The Ocean Cleanup. A 100km v-shaped barrier, made using highly advanced materials and technological innovation, is placed perpendicular to currents far out to sea. It collects vast amounts of plastic (at no risk to sea life) which is collected every four to six weeks and reused, recycled or turned into fuel for the vessels which service the barrier. Slat claims that it could clear half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (which is by some estimates about twice the size of Texas) in ten years. Watch this video to find out more or go to The Ocean Cleanup's site.
Meanwhile a clever system that stops plastic getting into the oceans in the first place also helps alleviate poverty in some of the world's most deprived areas. The Plastic Bank, the brainchild of David Katz, acts as a broker for recycling companies that receive discarded plastic bottles from people in disadvantaged communities who have collected the bottles themselves and choose to be paid either in cash, with wifi access or with power to charge their phones. The plastics are crushed into pellets - 'Social Plastic' and sold to buyers. What started as a small project in Peru is now active in Haiti and the Philippines, with plans for global expansion.
One significant problem with plastic in the ocean is the packaging that holds six packs of cans, such as beer and fizzy drinks, together - it can get stuck around the necks of animals such as tortoises and then either strangle them, mutilate them or traps them so they starve to death. One beer company, Saltwater, has come up with an ingeniously simple but clever idea - six pack rings made of barley and wheat leftover from the brewing of their beer, which can be eaten safely by sea life as well as being biodegradable and compostable. You can read more about it here.
At the lower end of the technology spectrum but no less clever for it, a group of Tennessee grannies cut discarded plastic bags into strips and tie them together to create 'plarn' - plastic yarn. This is then used to crochet sleeping mats for homeless people, with each mat needing more than 600 bags. We love this simple but clever idea that uses waste to create products for social good!
Finally, our friends at Ocean Sole in Kenya are also plastic superheroes, using waste flip flops washed up onto the beach to make beautiful, colourful animals and figures, which make wonderful corporate merchandise for companies eager to demonstrate that they are leading the way when it comes to sustainability, and aren't just 'green washing'. What's more, Ocean Sole provides employment and training for local communities. You can read more here about how founder, Julie Church, was inspired to make such a difference and turn the ugly into something beautiful on so many levels.
This is just a tiny snapshot of those who are fighting to save our planet from the threat of plastic- there are so many more doing incredible things. We'd love to hear about your plastic superheroes!
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