The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind' seems perfectly fitting to our plastic problem. Consumers around the world are discarding plastic without considering what happens to it next. Particularly in coastal environments we are able to sweep our plastic under the big blue ocean carpet and forget about it. We are all guilty of it, and our combined actions build up to be an enormous problem often unknown to many.
Check out these facts:
"More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year." (www.plasticoceans.org)
"By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, study says." (Ellen MacArthur Foundation report launched at the World Economic Forum)
But there is hope. Our combined actions can solve this growing issue. People around the world are seeking new innovative ways to tackle this environmental disaster, and it's so inspiring to see. Here in the coastal township of Tofo, Mozambique, this can be seen through the actions of its local community.
An ocean full of plastic
Tofo, like many developing areas, is in the early stages of creating sustainable waste disposal systems. There are no large recycling plants locally, no street cleaning machines or big garbage trucks. However, in other ways, somewhat unknowingly, recycling is a part of business as usual – for example bars and restaurants have to return all glass bottles to be cleaned and reused.
Tofo is also home to passionate individuals who are on a mission to combat the plastic problem, such as Jenny from the Upstairs Café who only provides bamboo straws to her customers in their drinks; ALMA, a group of motivated people who collect the rubbish in Tofo by truck, process it and turn it into crafts; and Natalie, who creates beautiful glasses from discarded glass bottles.
MMF's Ocean Guardians help clean up Tofo beach twice a month
Creating the Ocean Guardians of the Future
We at MMF have also seen an opportunity to involve our youth program, Ocean Guardians.
Educating young Mozambicans about marine wildlife and to be competent in the water empowers them to explore and connect with their underwater world. Our goal is to increase awareness of the threats to Mozambique’s unique marine environment, while reducing drowning incidents and helping local fishing communities to conduct sustainable fishing practices.
MMF's Ocean Guardians make artwork to educate others about the harmful impact of plastic
Ocean Guardians learn about threats to the ocean and how to protect it, as well as how to swim and enjoy the water safely. The children pass their knowledge onto their families and communities. They spread the word and inspire action. We also invite guest speakers to present to the children about how they make a living by working with the ocean. Nayara (research assistant for MMF) recently gave our children a lecture about her occupation as an oceanographer – what it is, what she does, the plastic problem the world is facing and how we can reduce it.
Twice a month our Ocean Guardians clean Tofo’s beach. During these clean ups the children get big old rice bags and collect as much plastic as they can. They usually collect 16 bags (120 kg) full of plastic. This month we made artwork with the plastic to raise awareness and educate others on how long plastic lasts in nature. The artwork can been seen in an exhibition called ‘The other face of the world’ in Inhambane, and will be displayed in Tofo at Dathonga restaurant during the month of January.
This inspiring Ocean Guardian spent hours collecting as many microplastics as she could following the lessons she had learnt about marine animals eating plastic by mistake and dying from it.
This inspiring Ocean Guardian is collecting as many microplastics as she can
What can I do?
As you can see from the work of individuals here in Tofo, one person can make a big impact!
EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS!
9 tips for living with less plastic (www.lessplastic.co.uk)
MMF’s top tips for reducing your plastic footprint
Reduce your use of single-use plastics
The best way to do this is by a) refusing any single-use plastics that you do not need (e.g. straws, plastic bags, takeout utensils), and by b) purchasing, and carrying with you, reusable versions of those products, including reusable grocery bags, produce bags, bottles, utensils, coffee cups, and dry cleaning garment bags. The Package Free shop offers tips on how to create a zero waste lifestyle.
This should go without saying, but when you use single-use (and other) plastics that can be recycled, always be sure to recycle them. This helps keep them out of the ocean and reduces the amount of ‘new’ plastic in circulation.
Participate in a beach or river clean-up
This is one of the most direct and rewarding ways to fight ocean plastic pollution. You can simply go to the beach or waterway and collect plastic waste on your own or with friends or family, or you can join a local organization’s clean-up or an international event like the International Coastal Cleanup.
Support plastic bans
Many municipalities around the world have enacted bans on single use plastic bags, takeout containers, and bottles. You can support the adoption of such policies in your community. Here is a list of resources for legislative bodies considering limiting the use of plastic bags.
Tiny plastic particles, called ‘microbeads’, have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and body washes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for ‘polythelene and ‘polypropylene’ on the label (click here for a list of products containing microbeads).
Spread the word
Stay informed on issues related to plastic pollution and help make others aware of the problem. Tell your friends and family about how they can be part of the solution, or host a viewing party for one of the many plastic pollution focused documentaries, like Bag It, Addicted to Plastic or Garbage Island.
Support organizations addressing plastic pollution
There are many non-profit organizations working to tackle the problem of ocean plastic pollution in a variety of different ways, including Oceanic Society, Plastic Pollution Coalition, 5 Gyres, Algalita and Plastic Soup Foundation. These organizations rely on donations from people like you to continue their important work. Even small donations can make a big difference!