Inherent in any desire to restore a wildness, whether environmental or personal, is a need for the natural wilderness and our own bodies to be kept healthy. After reading David Attenborough’s Q&A for the launch of Blue Planet 2 in the Guardian, I followed it up with watching a few documentaries on the subject of ocean plastic, waste and sustainable business practices, the detail of which is worryingly mindblowing and paints the picture of our world in the midst of another significant ‘phase’ of humanity – The Plastic Age.
When you scrape beneath the surface, you realise plastic polymers are in virtually everything you own, from bottles, containers and bags to clothes, upholstery and even in the wheels of your car, not even mentioning every possible industrial application you can imagine.
- Plastic Planet – Werner Boote
- Tough Truths About Plastic Pollution – Dianna Cohen
- Inside the Garbage of the World – Maxine Carillo, Philippe Carillo, et al.
- Real Value – Jesse Borkowski
The staggering headline statistic of the ocean being on course for there to be more plastic in it by weight than fish by 2050 is horrifying. But more worrying perhaps is the degradation of larger plastic material into microplastics, already strewn throughout the ocean and most prevalent in around 11 gyres, across the 5 oceans, in the form of a dangerous and toxic soup. In many ways, the more visible problem of plastic floating around the ocean, in dire need of collection and recycling is overshadowed by the seemingly insurmountable task of filtering micro-plastic from the ocean soup it has created. Whilst the damage has already been done, the need to prevent these microplastics from continuing to break down and become the sand on beaches, the pseudo-plankton in the bellies of sea animals and birds and consequentially become a larger health hazard for humanity, has never been more important.
The Plastic Planet documentary by Werner Boote also highlights the fact that there are thousands of untested chemical additives in all forms of plastics. Already, a small number of those tested are showing signs of having a significant impact on human health. Bisphenol A (BPA), although disputed by the likes of the EFSA, has been seen in many studies to contribute to a change in human hormone activity and has been linked to a decline in male fertility rates as one impact among many. Not being a scientist, it’s up to each of us to draw our own conclusions about which research we want to take notice of. It seems logical though, that with the number of untested additives and chemicals in plastic, that there will be at least some causing damage to the human body.
On a more positive front, there are a range of ocean cleanup initiatives and operations already in action and making positive progress.
Ocean plastic initiatives:
The Ocean Cleanup
Marine Litter Solutions (List of initiatives)
Despite these efforts, it’s clear more needs to be done, and at a greater pace, before the balance tips to a point where clean up initiatives can’t keep up with waste levels – set to only increase further as forecasts for plastic production globally head towards around a 7% CAGR 2017-2025.
The Real Value documentary by Jesse Borkowski is also a positive glimmer of the future, showing off several companies who see profit-making as merely an output of commercially and environmentally sustainable businesses with all human interests taken into account. Rather than profit as an end in its own right, human and environmental value is the objective alongside sustainable commercial return and a sustainable impact on the environment, working hard to show responsibility to workers across the supply chain, customers, employees and the post-product-life supply chain. The documentary very much alludes to the broader practices of the circular economy which the world must shift towards if we and the environment are to have a healthy future.
With that in mind, I’ll be taking the Cradle2Cradle Foundations course to learn more about product design and the circular economy and use it as starting point of how I might find a way of positively contributing, both professionally and personally, and forge a greater respect for the environmental and human consequences of our societies insatiable appetite for plastic and how best to address it.