Project Kaisei, one of this summer's missions to study the plastics vortex in the Pacific Ocean, is back in
California. The trip offers the plastics industry an opportunity to learn more about marine debris, a problem that's been driving bans and taxes on bags and food-service disposables on the West Coast — a trend that we've seen gain foothold elsewhere in North America.
Dennis Rogers, a marine educator who blogged from the trip, notes that he saw “exactly what I expected to see: The plastic was about in the concentration that credible media had reported.”
“You do not need to sail to the middle of the Pacific to know what to do about plastic in our oceans, in our streams, and on our shores, but sailing to it makes the message even more compelling.
“Most people reading this blog know the personal solution already: reduce, reuse, recycle. Many of us have found new ways to live with less stuff, how to make things last and how to properly dispose of what we use. If you have done this, you know that we are all works in progress and that it's only with constant attention to details that one can succeed. On the other hand, how do you make a whole culture pay constant attention? It seems that while we've been chanting ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle,' somehow our throwaway culture has marched forward unaware.”
I share his frustration, and I'm sure many Plastics News readers do, too. As I've pointed out before, many people in the plastics industry consider themselves to be environmentalists. They may have a bias toward plastic products, but that's understandable. Plastics offer many advantages to the sustainably minded: energy efficiency and light weight (which saves on transportation costs) are in the forefront, but so is recyclability.
I don't have to sell this audience on the benefits of plastics.
But now there's so much plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean that, in a single summer, we have multiple scientific missions exploring the problem. Something must be done to get more people to change their behavior. They've got to start to recycle, or at least properly dispose of plastic waste. If they don't, the problem will keep getting worse, and the industry will face solutions that it finds distasteful — bans and taxes.
The bottom line here is that marine debris is a problem caused by the public. But the plastics industry will pay the price if things don't change. So the question is how best to change human behavior and discourage the throwaway culture Rogers laments?
I hope his voyage helps, and I applaud him for focusing attention on the problem.
Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”