Whilst many of us are lucky enough to live along the UK’s amazing coastline, a lot of the population live within landlocked cities and towns. Without the visual reminder of how vast and important the ocean is, it can be easy to adopt an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude. Unfortunately, even when we are far away from the ocean, our daily choices still affect it in a very serious way.
Plastic pollution is a big issue within our oceans, and it is causing considerable damage. Plastics can entangle marine animals; it can also break down into microplastics and be ingested by wildlife. The toxic chemicals that are used to treat plastics leach out in the water, polluting it. Overall, we know that plastic in our oceans is bad – but how did it get there?
It is estimated that plastic pollution transported by rivers could make up 70% – 80% of the plastics that are found within the marine environment. That is a massive amount! Rivers act like a huge conveyor belt, talking our waste from the cities and inland areas, all the way out into the oceans. Once waste reaches the ocean, it can travel for miles and miles. Surface currents and circulation patterns push anything floating on the water out and around, potentially travelling further than you would think.
Rubber ducks tell it all!
In 1992 a shipment containing 28,000 rubber ducks fell into the Pacific Ocean. That was the beginning of their their adventure. Since then, they have washed up along coastlines in Alaska, Australia, Scotland and even in the Arctic! These ducks actually ended up teaching oceanographers a lot about ocean currents and their movements which was previously unknown. They highlighted the great distances pollution can travel once it enters the big blue.
Even here in the UK, our waterways are becoming more and more clogged with man-made plastics that are heading straight into the ocean. The River Thames is an important ecosystem, supporting over 125 species of marine and freshwater fish. It has also has one of the highest levels of microplastics recorded in the world! In 2019 a survey of 13 rivers across the UK was conducted – plastic pollution was found in all of them. The Mersey River contained more than 2 million pieces of microplastic per square kilometre – that is more than the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch!
So how is all this waste ending up in our waterways?
Without realising the implications, accidental or deliberate littering has a lot to answer for. Rubbish thrown on road or left behind at the park makes up part of it. As does, cigarette butts flicked onto the street or into a drain opening. They will all eventually make their way to the nearest water source, be it by stream, river or drain. Their final destination – the ocean!
There is also something called ‘leakage’, which describes when waste is being transported, for example to a landfill, it can often blow away because it is so light. From here it will follow the same path as the litter, eventually ending up in the ocean.
Also, think about what happens when you flush your toilet. Whatever is in there has a one-way journey to the ocean. Wet wipes, nappies or sanitary products flushed, all head the same way.
It can be really frustrating to know how easily our waste can get into the ocean and how far it can travel once it is there. So, what can we do to stop this?
The first thing is to use less plastic! Swap out those water bottles for a reusable bottle. Bring a packed lunch to work to avoid plastic-wrapped sandwiches. Have you tried a bamboo toothbrush or shampoo bar? There are lots of great replacements for plastic products. Each change we make, stops one more piece of plastic from entering our oceans.
We know stopping plastic use is not a feasible option, but recycling plastics whenever possible, is a great step. Check your local council for guidelines on what can and cannot be recycled and keep your eye out for one of our fantastic BinForGreenSeas!