A profusion of plastic litters our oceans and shores. From beverage bottles and milk cartons to plastic bags and utensils, the amount of waste dumped into our waters seems boundless.
It’s estimated that more than eight million tons of plastic enter our water systems every year. It is almost unfathomable. Where does all of this plastic come from, how does it end up in our oceans, and what can we start doing right now to mitigate this catastrophic event?
Plastic that pollutes our oceans derives from myriad sources. When we discard our domestic waste, it ends up in landfills. From here, vicious storms or even a light breeze can whisk pieces of trash away, which often end their journey sinking below the tides. Other contributing factors include illegal dumping, construction rubble, poor municipal waste management and beach visitors who don’t make proper use of public bins.
Many adverse effects stem from human behaviour. Almost immediate consequences are observed in our natural spaces. Marine life such as turtles and whales, often mistake these floating pieces of garbage for sources of food. Swallowing these items with the hope of sustenance, the animals often choke, suffocate, and perish. Effects are witnessed later on as well, many of the creatures that consume our waste pass down these toxins to their offspring without realising it may kill or harm them in the process.
When this happens, the species we consume pass this man-made plague right back to us, exposing us to harmful toxins.
Other concerns highlight the important role the ocean plays in releasing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, services our oceans provide freely to a larger extent than most people realise. As we continue polluting our Earth, as water temperatures rise, and the sun’s ray’s burn, vital ecosystems have come under threat, our coral reefs, mangroves and melting glaciers are a significant example. As our oxygen resources deplete, even more CO2 is released into our already punctured atmosphere. One of the causes of this devastation is sewage runoffs, oil spills and waste dumped into the ocean.
As our network of resources rapidly dwindle down, we face a bleak future of being left with nothing if we do not make swift changes.
Although the mammoth issue leads us to think we have little power, we all have the potential to play our part in cleaning up our planet. We’re always stronger together, and that’s why organisations who champion environmental protection are a vital aid in this global cause.
#SeaTheBiggerPicture is one such programme. This non-profit organisation aims to educate, encourage change and embark on an ocean cleaning mission to safeguard the planet. Co-founded in 2018 by Chris Krauss and Shamier Magmoet, #SeaTheBiggerPicture now has a diverse directorship of more than 10 partnerships with other organisations and businesses, and more than 20 regular volunteers involved in making their projects unique and goal oriented.
Their keystone program, Defenders of the Blue, focuses on educating the youth about our vast and abundant oceans and how we can protect it from further harm. It’s here where children venture into the waters with rock pool snorkelling. By getting comfortable in the water, kids who often would not otherwise have the opportunity can witness the beauty that lives below the surface and the importance of keeping marine life thriving. An extension of this program is their visits to schools for educational talks. By collaborating with the marine scientists, the initiative teaches students and informs the public about the negative impact of ocean pollution and what we can all do to mitigate these nasty effects.
Through this activity, the youth not only learn vital team-building and leadership skills but also form an intimate bond with and passion for our water systems and the life they harbour.
The second keystone program run by #SeaTheBiggerPicture conducts monthly beach clean-ups along the Cape coasts and the Black River mouth. From Hout Bay beach to Millers point in Simonstown, the team gathers like-minded and passionate environmentalists, communities, organisations and local businesses to pick up the trash embedded in our water systems and littered on our shores.
Dedicating a Saturday morning for the clean-ups, citizens rid the land of as much waste as possible while collecting data on the rubbish collected. PET bottles, earbuds, and straws are among the most common forms of plastic found. They’re also the most harmful as they sieve through the grids placed over water piping in an effort to halt the movement of plastic. These items are also small enough that they don’t appear to be a problem, making them an even larger one.
“We use beach clean-ups as an educational tool and a wake-up call,” Krauss explains. “Here, people can see, smell, and physically pick-up and interact with their waste, changing their perspective and creating an emotional connection to the sea.”
It’s incredibly important to have these physical interactions with waste as people witness where their trash may end up, awakening within them a responsibility to be more conscious and accountable for their waste.
Collected plastic goes straight from the beach clean-up area to the False Bay Trading recycling depot to be processed. However, not all items are recyclable. #SeaTheBiggerPicture, therefore, turns to the formation of eco-bricks for all cleaner, dry items. These are made up of non-recyclable plastics tightly packed into a large PET bottle to create a compact bottle brick that is used as an extremely affordable building and insulation material alternative by organisations such as Oceano Reddentes, their core beach-clean partner who run the data collection processes.
The NPO works with myriad organisations who collectively raise the efforts to decrease plastic pollution. These include Oceano Reddentes (mentioned above) and Sentinel Ocean Alliance, both of whom run various projects to conduct research, curate outreach programmes, and educate the youth on cleaning up our planet. GiLo Lifestyle, a clothing brand that uses recycled ocean plastic to create eco-friendly and fashionable garments, also aids this vital cause.
Various sponsors keep the ship afloat and provide sustainable services that make regular clean-ups possible. With the help of Proof of Impact, who pay per pound of ocean trash recycled, Parley TV, who funds waste pickers to sort out collected trash, Blue Water, who offer plastic-free fresh filtered water and Salt&Petal, who supply delicious snacks and earth-friendly prizes at the gatherings, #SeaTheBiggerPicture is able to continue its essential work.
Now, the NPOs main goal is to reach a zero waste status at their clean-ups. With innovative concepts in the works, this future dream could become a reality. Teaming up with engineers in Johannesburg, #SeaTheBiggerPicture is developing a plastic shredder for more efficient eco-brick processing. The team has already developed a beach cleaning device called the Enviro Buggy, a little engine cart designed to suck up micro plastics on the ground and along the sand that may easily be missed by human eyes.
Finally, #SeaTheBiggerPicture’s next keystone project is corporate engagement. They aim to use the data collected over time to approach brands, local municipalities and large corporates responsible for harmful packaging and irresponsibly designed products. In doing so, they hope to offer consulting and encouragement for significant changes to be phased in.
Even with numerous efforts to save the planet from plastic pollution, it sometimes seems pointless. During the Hout Bay beach-clean that took place on the 19th of September, eco-activists gathered to collect as much plastic and data as possible to rid the area of harmful waste. While in the process, a truck was spotted illegally offloading and dumping waste right back into the ocean a mere kilometre away. The irony of it all was heart breaking.
Despite these disheartening realities, irresponsible activities doesn’t mean we can’t all continue to try our very best. Good intentions go a long way for awareness, small collective changes and each action contributes to the fight against waste. Even if you pick up a few items of litter, you are making a difference – no matter how big or small.
“We’re saving lives with every bottle we pick up, it adds up and inspires others” Krauss says.
So keep supporting, stay positive and above all, pick up your trash! The journey to a healthier planet starts at home.
This feature story was published by GiLo Lifestyle and #SeaTheBiggerPictur